Wild Chanterelles And Their Look-a-Likes

Wild chanterelles are truly a beautiful sight to see in early June until early July here in the Atlanta area. Not only do they add color to the forests and woodlands but they are also a gourmet’s delight.

I recently meet a young couple, however, that became violently ill after eating what they believed were wild chanterelles. Unfortunately, none of the “wild chanterelles” were kept for identification purposes. When picking and eating wild mushrooms of any kind, always save a few for later
identification in case there is a toxic reaction. The following describes a number of mushroom species that could be mistake for chanterelles. I do not recommend eating any wild mushroom unless you personally can identify them.

Common Name: Golden Chanterelle; Chanterelle:
There may be as many common names for Cantharellus cibarius as for Boletus edulis. From the French we have chanterelle and from the German we have Pfifferling. Chanterelles vary in size, stature, color, and fruiting habits but are usually defined by its yellow-orange cap and “primitive” decurrent, sometimes forked, gills. There are a plethora of look-a-likes that include the false chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca), waxy caps
(Hygrocybe flavescens has adnexed to sinuate gills), Lueucopaxillus albissimus, Gymnopilus spectabilis, Hypomyces lactifluorum (the Lobster Mushroom is parasitic on Lactarius and Russula), and the Jack O’ Lantern (Omphalotus illudens). Aside from the many variations within C. cibarius, there is C. formosus that is an eastern conifer lover with a convex, yellow to brownish cap and pinkish gills and is edible. Cibarius simply means food.

Cantharellus cibarius (Fries)Cap Width: Up to 5 inches
Stalk Height: Up to 3 inchesCap: Convex to flat with a depressed center, becoming vase-shaped with an uplifted, lobed or wavy margin; golden orange to egg-yoke yellow-orange, paler with age; surface smooth.
Flesh: Thick, firm, whitish or tinged yellow to orange, odor fruity like pumpkins or apricots, taste somewhat peppery,
occasionally bitter.
Underside (Fertile surface): Thick, well-spaced to close ribs or folds with blunt edge, shallow, fold-like, deeply decurrent gills that are often forked to cross-veined; colored like cap or paler.
Stalk: Thick, equal or tapered downward, sometimes enlarged at base, solid, dry, firm, color like cap or paler, often staining ochraceous to orange brown.
Spore Color: Creamy or yellow.
Habitat: Gregarious in groups of 2 or 3 on the ground in woods in broad-leaved (oaks) and conifer woods; mycorrhizal; summer to fall.
Edibility: Edible and choice

Common Name: False Chanterelle:
The False Chanterelle is considered a “look-a-like” of Cantharellus cibarius because of its blunt, forked gills and similar color. Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca typically has bright orange, decurrent, dichotomously forked gills and a white spore print. Dichotomously fork gills are a type of branching in which the gills divide into two equal parts, so that it produces a fork of approximately equal branches more or less uniformly distributed under the cap. This is not true for C. cibarius that have forked “gills” randomly distributed around the underside of the cap. It is said that true chanterelles have “false” gills and false chanterelle have “true” gills. Aurantiaca means “orange-colored.”

Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca (Wulfen; Maire)
Clitocybe aurantiaca (Wulfen; Fries)
Cap Width: Up to 4 inches
Stalk Height: Up to 4 inches

Cap: Convex at first, becoming flat to depressed in the center, or shallow vase-shaped with an incurved margin that is seldom wavy; orange to orange-brown or sometimes yellow-brown; surface smooth or downy, dry.

Flesh: Thin, soft, brownish orange; odor and taste not distinctive.
Gills: Long, decurrent, crowded, thin, repeatedly dichotomously forked; yellow-orange to bright or dark orange.
Stalk: Central or eccentric; equal thickness; color of the cap or paler; tough; surface dry, velvety; often curved.
Spore Color: White
Habitat: Single to scattered or gregarious groups or tufts on humus rich ground or rotting wood, needles, or other debris of various conifers, especially spruce; August-November.
Edibility: To be avoided since it is mildly poisonous causing gastrointestinal distress.

Common Name: Jack O’ Lantern:
The Jack O’ Lantern sometimes occurs in large clusters in lawns and grassy places from the roots of trees whose remnants are no longer visible. It can be distinguished from Chanterelles since it has sharp-edge true gills rather than blunt gill-like veins beneath the cap. Chanterelles rarely occur in clusters of more than 2 or 3 fruiting bodies and are egg-yolk yellow. The gills of fresh Jack O’ Lanterns are luminescence and will glow
in the dark with an eerie greenish color. Illudens means emitting light.

The Jack O’ Lantern also occurs at the base of dying or dead trees and tree stumps.

Omphalotus illudens (Schwein)
Clitocybe illudens (Schwein)
Cap Width: Up to 7 inches
Stalk Height: Up to 8 inches
Cap: Convex at first, becoming flattened or shallowly depressed with age, with or without an umbo, margin incurved when young later expanding and becoming wavy; pumpkin colored from bright orange to yellow-orange becoming brownish with age; surface smooth.
Flesh: White to yellowish
Gills: Decurrent, close to moderately well spaced; colored like the cap; luminescent.
Stalk: Nearly equal, usually narrower at base; solid; central to eccentric; colored like the cap or paler; surface smooth.
Spore Color: Cream to pale yellowish
Habitat: Typically growing in large clusters, often with multiple stalk bases originating from one point; on or around well-decayed stumps (oak) or from decaying underground roots; saprobic; summer to fall.
Edibility: Poisonous. Symptoms manifest themselves 15-30 minutes after ingestion and are focused on the involuntary nervous system. Profuse sweating, excessive salivation, tears, plus severe vomiting and diarrhea are typical symptoms due to the toxin muscarine. The victim usually recovers within 24 hours but in severe cases, death may result from respiratory failure.

The photograph to the right shows the sharp-edge gill structure of the Jack O’ Lantern.

Home Propagation of Plants: Division And Layering

CROWN DIVISION
One simple and reliable method for propagating plants at home is crown division. As a general rule, plants that flower in the spring and early summer should be divided in late summer or fall. Those flowering in the summer and fall should be divided in early spring before new growth begins.

For crown division of herbaceous plants, such as irises, the clumps should be carefully lifted and some soil removed from the roots. The crown may then be cut into sections with a knife or other sharp tool. Individual shoots that contain roots may be used to form new plants, or if a larger plant is desired, several shoots may be left together. In large, old crowns, it is often best to discard the older, center portions and replant the young, more vigorous shoots that have developed on the edges of the clump.

Table 1: Some common perennials suitable for division

Plant Division Time Plant Division Time Plant Division Time
Aster (hardy) Spring Hosta (plantain lily) Spring or fall Phlox Spring
Baptisia (false indigo) Spring or fall Iris (bulbous (Dutch) Late summer, fall Primula Summer
Bleeding heart Late summer, early spring Iris, rhizomatous (German) July, August Red-hot poker (Kniphofia) Spring
Chrysanthemum Spring Iris, fibrous (Japanese) July, August Rudbeckia Spring or fall
Columbine March Lily Fall Sedum (stonecrop) Spring, July, August
Coneflower (Echinacea) Spring or fall Lily of the valley Fall Sempervivum (houseleek) Spring, summer
Coreopsis Spring Loosestrife (Lythrum) Spring Shasta daisy Spring
Daylily Late summer, spring Oriental poppy July, August Vinca (myrtle) Early spring
Delphinium Early spring Pampas grass Spring Yarrow (Achillea) Early spring
Ferns Early spring Peony Early fall Yucca Spring or fall

LAYERING
Layering is a useful and desirable method to root a new plant while the stem is still attached to the parent plant. The new plant receives nutrients and water from the parent plant until roots develop. This method of asexual propagation yields a large plant in a relatively short time and is an excellent way to produce a small number of plants in the home landscape. Layering outdoors is best performed during spring and summer months, although it can be done during any season of the year.

Healthy, maturing branches that are vigorously growing in light should be chosen for layering since they usually have more food reserves (carbohydrates) and therefore root faster. Branches from pencil size to about ¾ inch in diameter are best for layering.

Layering can be done without any special equipment or structures. Some layering techniques include simple, tip, serpentine, and air. Simple layering involves pegging down a suitable shoot into the soil. Serpentine and tip layering are similar to simple layering with flexible shoots buried in the ground. Air layering is used for plants that will not bend down to the ground. I will not go into dropping or stooling. Dropping is used for dwarf shrubs such as rhododendrons and some dwarf conifers where the whole plant is buried with only the tips of shoots exposed above ground. Stooling is a specialized technique used for some ornamental shrubs like Cornus spp. (dogwood) and Salix spp. (willow) where the soil is mounded above an existing plant to create new shoots on the buried stems.

Simple Layering
For the home gardener, simple layering may be performed whenever a plant has a branch low enough to be pulled down to the ground. It is a slow method and can take more than a year before you can separate the new plant from its parent. Simple layering is usually done in the spring when the sap is rising although it can be done from late autumn to early spring.

Many plants root when a leaf node of the shoot is buried several inches deep in the soil and the tip protrudes vertically from the soil. It is generally beneficial to wound or cut the stem at the point where it curves upward. The wounding tells the plant to send healing hormones to the cut surface. Make a slanted cut about 2 inches long either above or below the bend. Make the cut about 12 inches from the tip and dust it with a rooting hormone. Place the prepared branch or stem (A) into a hole or trench 4-6 inches deep and fasten it down to the ground with a wire peg (B). Bent U-shaped coat hangers work well. If the branch is stiff, insert a stake next to the shoot to hold the tip in an upright position (C). Fill the hole or trench and mound the soil slightly so the wounded portion of the stem will be 4-6 inches below the soil. Firm the soil.

Keep the soil around the layer moist at all times and cover with a 3”-4” layer of mulch. The layer may form roots during the first season but should not be cut form the parent plant until the following year. Some hard to root types may take two years to produce roots.

After the layer is well rooted, sever the branch where it enters the soil. Don’t disturb the roots of the layered plant for 2-6 months after it has been severed. This will allow the new plant time to grow independently. When the new plant is dormant, it can then be transplanted to a convenient protected spot or container where it can be tended carefully for one year before moving it to a permanent location.

Serpentine Layering
Serpentine layering is suitable for long vines and requires that the shoot be alternately covered and exposed. The technique is simple layering in
multiples. Wounds should be made on the lower portion of each curve between leaf nodes. Bend the shoot down so that each wounded area is in

the bottom of a hole and the shoot between is still above ground. Peg them in place as done with simple layering. Do not layer the tip of the shoot or this will root and the other layered sections behind it will rot. This method is suitable for vines such as honeysuckle, clematis, or wisteria. The branch is cut into segments after rooting has taken place.

Tip Layering
Tip layering on raspberries and blackberries is easy to do in the spring. It consists of rooting tips of the current season’s growth. The tip of the shoot is where the strongest concentration of rooting hormones is. Rooting can be stimulated in late summer as the drooping canes develop an elongated appearance and leaves become smaller. Pull the tip of these shoots down and insert them in holes 4-6 inches deep. Peg the tip down with U-shaped pieces of wire and fill the hole with free-draining soil. Rooting generally takes place rapidly and the plants may be transplanted later the same season. Survival is better if transplanting is delayed until just before growth starts in the following spring.

To stimulate more tips, pinch out the top 3-4 inches of a 2-foot tall cane in the spring. By late August or early September, the new growth will arch
down, touch the soil and turn upward. These often root without assistance at the point of the curve where they touch the soil.

Care after rooting layered plants: The root system of newly rooted layers is small in relation to the tops. As soon as the layer forms new roots, cut it from the parent plant and transplant it to a container. Prune the stems so that the leaf area is reduced to at least one-third. The new plants should be located in a lightly shaded area. Suitable shading may be made from an old window screen. After the first winter, the screen can be removed. Sufficient roots should have developed so that the plants can be moved to a permanent location.

Air Layering
Air layering is a useful method for rooting difficult to root plants, which include magnolia, witch hazel, gardenia, rose, fig, holly, camellia, azalea, and many of the fruit and nut bearing plants such as apple, pear, and pecan. The procedure is to wound the stem or branch of the plant and enclose the wounded stem with moist sphagnum moss until roots develop from the wounded area. For optimum rooting, make the air layers in the spring on shoots produced from the previous season’s growth or in midsummer on mature shoots from the current season’s growth. On woody plants, stems that are pencil size or up to ¾ inch diameter are best. The stem may be much thicker on the more herbaceous plants.

First remove leaves and twigs on the selected limb for 3-4 inches above and below the point where the air layer is to be made. The air layer is usually made 12-15 inches below the tip of the branch. The branch is wounded to induce rooting. The method of wounding woody plants such as magnolia, rose, and similar plants is to make two parallel cuts with a shape knife about 1-1/2 inches apart around the stem and through the bark and cambium layer. If the cambium layer is not removed, new bark will form instead of roots. Connect the two parallel cuts with one long cut and remove the ring of bark, leaving the inner woody tissue exposed. You may want to cover the cut nearest the tip with rooting hormone although this is seldom necessary.

Apply a handful of damp sphagnum moss so that it envelops the wounded portion of the stem. It may be necessary to wrap kitchen string around the moss to hold it in place. The sphagnum moss should be soaked several hours before using to ensure that it is thoroughly moist. Squeeze out the excess moisture, as it will result in decay of the plant tissue.

Use a sheet of polyethylene film (plastic wrap works well) about 6 inches by 12 inches to wrap around the ball of sphagnum moss. Be sure there is a good seal all around. Make sure the upper end of the film fits snugly around the stem and none of the moss is exposed. Fasten securely with twist ties but not so tight as to bite into the stem. This will allow you to open the plastic wrap to check for rooting without disturbing the new roots. You may use electrician tape instead of twist ties but take care that the tape extends beyond the film and adheres to the stem. Repeat the procedure on the lower end, making sure there is a snug fit. Moisture should not be allowed to escape from or leak into the wounded area. If necessary, support the plant with a stake or splint to prevent breakage at the wounded area. Wrap with aluminum foil large enough to completely cover the plastic wrap and extend up and down the branch a couple of inches in either direction. This will prevent heat buildup under the plastic. Crimp the foil for a good seal.

The rooting time will vary with each plant variety as well as the season in which it is performed. In 6 weeks to a year or so, you should have a new plant. If no roots are visible in the moss ball, carefully remove the plastic and moss to check the cut area. If the wound is still moist and has a swollen callus tissue at the top, then the roots should appear soon. Replace the packing with new moist moss, plastic, and aluminum foil. If the stem has healed over the wound, start again with a different shoot.

After the new roots have penetrated the moss ball and are visible on all sides, the rooted branch may be removed from the parent plant. Remove the newly rooted plant from the parent plant with a sharp knife or pruning shears, making the cut just below the ball of moss and roots. Carefully remove the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Plant the root ball of moss in a container using a good potting mixture. Be very careful when you firm the dirt around the new plant since the new roots are easily broken off. The potted plant may be placed in a cold frame in a lightly shaded area to allow for the establishment of roots and to harden off the new plant. Keep it in a sheltered area for at least 4-6 weeks before you move them into stronger light. The plants will let you know when they are ready for more light by sending out new growth.

If you don’t have a cold frame, you can accomplish the hardening off process by placing a polyethylene tent over the newly potted plant for about 2 weeks to prevent moisture loss. Keep the plant in light shade and avoid direct sunlight until the new root system is well developed. Harden off the plant gradually by cutting a few holes in the plastic tent to reduce the humidity until it reaches the surrounding environmental conditions.

The University of Florida’s Landscape Plant Propagation Information (LPPI) website, http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/lppi/htm, contains a lot of information on propagating many different plants.

Table 2. Some Common Plants Suitable for Layering

PLANT LAYERING TIME LAYERING METHOD ROOTING TIME
Akebia spp. Early spring to early autumn Serpentine 12-18 months
Azalea spp. Early to late winter Simple 9-12 months
Azalea spp. Early to mid-spring Air 12-18 months
Buxus spp. Early to mid-spring Dropping 6-9 months
Camellia spp. Later winter to early spring Simple 6-12 months
Campsis radicans Mid-to late autumn Simple, Serpentine 9-12 months
Clematis spp. Mid-to late autumn Simple, Serpentine 9-12 months
Daphne spp. Early to midsummer Simple 6-9 months
Euonymus spp. Early to mid-spring Simple 6-12 months
Ficus elastica (rubber plant) Mid-spring to late summer Air 6-9 months
Forsythia spp. Spring to late spring Simple 6-9 months
Fothergilla spp. Late summer to early autumn Simple 12-18 months
Hamamelis spp. (witch hazel) Early to mid-spring Air 12-18 months
Ilex spp. Late summer to autumn Air 12-18 months
Ilex spp. Early to mid-spring Simple 9-12 months
Jasminum spp. Early to mid-spring Simple 6-9 months
Magnolia spp. Early to mid-spring Simple 12-18 months
Magnolia spp. Mid-spring to late summer Air 18-24 months
Rhododendron spp. Early to mid-spring Simple 12-18 months
Rubus spp. (blackberry, etc.) Early spring to midsummer Tip 3-6 months
Viburnum spp. Early to mid-spring Simple 9-12 months
Vitis spp. Early to late winter Simple, Serpentine 9-12 months
Wisteria spp. Early to mid-spring Simple, Serpentine 12-18 months

Edible Wild Landscape: Cossack Asparagus

You don’t have to travel to the steppes of Russia to find this wild edible plant. “Cossack asparagus” is another name for the common cattail, sometimes called bulrush. There are probably very few people who don’t know what a cattail is or what it looks like. When mature, the cattail is
easily recognized by its brown “hot dog on a stick” appearance.

Technically, male and female cattail blossoms are flowers, but extremely small. When they open, the tiny female flowers are greenish but before long they turn into the familiar brown cylinder. Male flowers don’t hang around very long. They grow on a yellow spike that juts out of the top of the brown cylinder, and when their pollen is ripe, it drops on the female flowers below. Then the male flowers fall off, leaving the familiar hot dog-on-a-stick.

There are even fewer people who know that the common cattail has many edible and medicinal parts. Almost every edible part can be harvested from late spring, through summer, and into early fall. Euell Gibbons in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus called it the “Supermarket of the  Swamps.” The cattail, a member of the grass family, is so versatile it can be used raw in salads, as a cooked vegetable, ground into flour, pickled, and as a substitute for potatoes.

Dense stands of cattails are found from the artic to the tropics in shallow water at the low end of farm fields; fo llow railroad tracks, near ponds, lakes, and marshlands. In North America, it is a single genus with three species, all of which are edible: the Common Cattail (Typha latifolia), the Dominican or Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis), and the non-native Narrowleaf Cattail (Typha augustifolia). If you plan on gathering some cattails, put your boots on since it’s a muddy and messy business. You don’t need to worry about harming the plant by pulling it up since the  colony grows from a system of branching, underground rhizomes. If you wish to do some culinary experiments with cattails, avoid those growing in areas exposed to pollution from traffic or chemical runoff.

Young cattail shoots resemble the non-poisonous sweet flag (Acorus calamus), the poisonous wild flag (Iris spp.), and the poisonous daffodil (Narcissus spp.). They are similar in appearance to the cattail but the distinctive fruiting spikes are absent. None of the look-a-likes grow more than a couple of feet tall, so by mid-spring, the much larger cattail becomes unmistakable.

In the early spring when the plants are 4 to 16 inches tall, young shoots (rounded flower stems, not the leaves) can be easily pulled from the rootstocks. Peeling off the leaves reveals a tender white core. These can be eaten raw or in a salad and taste like mild, raw cucumbers. They can also be sliced and sautéed in a little butter for a delightful side dish. The young shoots can be gathered, peeled, boiled, and pickled in hot vinegar. They may also be blanched and frozen for use during the winter. Be aware that while collecting the shoots your hands will end up with a sticky,
mucilaginous jelly. The Indians applied this jelly to wounds, sores, boils, external inflammation, and to soothe pain.

As the stalks reach about 2 to 3 feet tall, they can still be harvested and peeled to remove the tough, woody outer layer. When the peeled, white inner stalks are steamed, they taste similar to cabbage.The Russians have a fondness for the steamed stalks thus the name “Cossack asparagus.” The shoots provide beta-carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C.

In late spring and early summer, the young bloom spikes (flowers) emerge that will later form the brown, fuzzy cattail head, popular in dried flower arrangements. The young bloom spikes, found in the center of the plant, form little enclosed cylindrical packages that can be detected only when you’re close to the plant. The young blooms, about 8 to 12 inches long, are about the diameter of your little finger, and enclosed in a papery sheath. Peel back the papery sheath (leaves), as you would shuck corn, and you will find both the male portion at the tip and the female portion lower down. These “cob” spikes inside the papery sheath are what you eat.

You want to eat the male portions of the immature, green, flower head. You can discard the small female portion. Steam these spikes about 7-10 minutes, roll in butter and salt, and nibble the buds off the hard central core. The taste is reminiscent of corn (a distant relative) and asparagus. The flowers have a very dry texture and are almost unpalatable when cold. After cooking, it’s easier to shave the flower buds off the woody core and add some salt and melted butter to keep them warm. I don’t know how to describe the taste except that it’s good. It is a good vegetarian source of protein, unsaturated fat, and calories and also contains beta-carotene and minerals.

The rootstocks or rhizomes are typically ¼ to 1-1/4 inches in diameter and up to 27 inches long. They grow 3 to 8 inches below the soil surface. After digging them, you’ll need to peel the outer spongy layer away to find the white inner core. The edible core is very fibrous and filled with a starchy material. Cut the core into 4-inch pieces and allow them to dry for a day or two. You can then rub off enough “cattail flour” to add it to a biscuit mix for flavor. Unless you’re starving, I can’t recommend going to the time and trouble of harvesting, peeling, drying, and processing the rhizomes.

Just before the summer solstice, the male blossoms, located above the brown female bloom spike, ripen and produce significant quantities of bright yellow pollen as fine as talcum powder. Cattail pollen beats bee pollen not only in price but also freshness and nutrition. This corn flavored pollen is easily gathered by wading through the cattail marshes and gently bending each bloom spike over and dusting it into a large paper bag or a plastic baggy. Do this during a calm, dry day. Gather only enough fresh pollen for immediate use (about 3-4 cups). Use it as a flour extender for biscuits, breads, and cakes. Since the pollen doesn’t rise, a rule of thumb is to mix it with about two or three times the amount of flour in a given recipe. Follow the recipe for your favorite pancake mix, except replace one-third of the pancake flour with the cattail pollen. The pancakes will have a golden color when cooked and an excellent flavor. You can also eat the pollen raw, sprinkled on yogurt, oatmeal, and salads.

One of the uses for cattail leaves is rush seating. The rushes are usually gathered in midsummer when the plants are fully mature, and carefully dried in the open air to prevent molding. They can then be bundled and stored. The dried rushes need to be soaked before using to make them pliable. Archeologists have excavated cattail mats over 10,000 years old from a Nevada cave. The Internet has plenty of information on rush weaving.

Poisonous Plants And Mushrooms In The Landscape

La Rochefoucauld said that “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” Nearly everybody in his or her life has had at least a small desire to get out of the fast lane and resort back to a simpler way of life. Not the least of these instincts are the pleasure of eating foods provided by nature and becoming, at least for a day, independent of the supermarkets. Edible wild plants and mushrooms grow in our woodlands, marshes, fields, pastures, and in our own landscapes. Some of the best tasting and healthy foods are available “free” for the eating, provided you know which plants and mushrooms are edible!

One of our early cave dwelling ancestors encountered a pretty cluster of mushrooms on the ground and asked:

  • What can I do with it?
  • Will it feed me?
  • Will cure my ills?

An intrepid ancestor ate it and promptly died. Fear of poisonous plants and mushrooms is traceable to stories like this.

The term “POISONOUS” used in this article does not imply that the plants or mushrooms are deadly. Plant and mushroom poisoning can vary from dermatitis to a minor stomach upset, hallucinogenic ‘trips’, or a rather painful, protracted death. There are a number of variables that determine how severe the poisoning symptoms maybe, such as the plant or mushroom species and the person’s age, weight, and health status in relationship to the quantity of the plant or mushroom ingested. Also impacting the severity of the symptoms is the form of plant or mushroom at the time of ingestion (i.e., cooked versus raw, fresh versus aging, etc.).

Don’t be paranoid. Build your knowledge of plants and mushrooms and whether or not they are toxic or edible. Garden centers, nurseries, florists, and Cooperative Extension can assist in plant identification. Plant samples taken in for identification purposes should be fresh and include leaves, stem, flowers, and fruit. For mushrooms, take in the entire fruiting body from cap to base (the part in the ground).

POISONOUS PLANTS
Most of us are familiar with common poisonous plants that cause skin irritation such as Poison Ivy or Poison Oak. More than 100 species of common landscape plants in Georgia, however, can cause illness or death. Many ornamental plants found in the landscape were selected from wild populations due to their foliage, flowers, and scent. In many cases, little or no consideration was given to plant toxicity. Landscape plant toxicity is good in once sense since many herbivores, such as deer and rabbits, and insects, like Japanese beetles, tend to avoid them.

In the vegetable garden, many plants also contain toxins. For example, the stems and leaves of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes (members of the Nightshade family) contain alkaloid toxins that can cause liver damage. The edible fruits of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants and tubers of potatoes do not contain toxic levels of these alkaloids. Potatoes, however, may turn green in response to light and become toxic. Another member of the Nightshade family, tobacco contains the alkaloid nicotine.

Most adults would not knowingly eat leaves, stems, roots, or fruits from an unknown plant in our pastures, lawns, or forests. This does not apply to our children, livestock, or pets.

Children love plants and love to put things into their mouth just for a taste. Teach them not to eat any plant unless they have permission from a knowledgeable adult and don’t decorate the table with poisonous plants.

Since pets and livestock can’t read, always provide them with plenty of water and palatable feed. Walk the lawn, pasture, and forest to identify potentially poisonous plants. Your local veterinarian can help you learn about local plants that may harm your pets or livestock.

The physiological effects that generally categorize plant poisonings are:

  • Abortifacient and Reproductive Toxins: Substances that can cause mutations, birth defects, abortions, and infertility or sterility. Broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is an example.
  • Cardiac Glycoside-Containing Plants: Cardiac glycosides primarily affect cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal systems and can be found in foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea).
  • Cyanide or Prussic Acid-Containing Plants: Prussic acid, cyanide, or hydrocyanic acids are all terms relating to the same toxic substance. It is one of the most rapidly acting toxins. Chokecherry (Prunus spp.) is an example.
  • Gastrointestinal Irritants and Toxins: The juice, leaves, roots and seeds of plants containing gastrointestinal irritants can produce stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Examples are aloe, daffodils, and geraniums.
  • Alkaloid-Containing Plants: Alkaloid toxicity may result in moderate to severe liver damage. Gastrointestinal symptoms are usually the first sign of intoxication, and consist predominantly of abdominal pain with vomiting. Death may ensue from 2 weeks to more than 2 years after poisoning. Groundsel (Senecio riddellii) is an example.
  • Neurotoxic and Myotoxic Plants: All parts of the plant contain toxic steroidal alkaloids that cause cardiovascular failure. An example is Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium).
  • Oxalate-Containing Plants: Toxic oxalates form insoluble salts that crystallize and damage vessels and renal tubular epithelium and can be found in Larkspurs (Delphinium spp.).
  • Photosensitizing Plants: The poisonous compound in the plant, hypericin, reaches the skin from an internal route (stomach to blood to skin) where it sensitizes the skin to sunlight. Pigments in the skin shield colored skin from sunrays so that only white or unpigmented areas are affected. St. Johnswort is an example.

For a complete listing of Georgia’s poisonous plants including toxic plant parts and symptoms, go to UGA’s Horticultural Fact Sheet “Poisonous Plants in the Landscape” written by Robert Westerfield and Gary Wade at: pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/horticulture/h-00-056.pdf .

SOME TOXIC ORNAMENTAL PLANTS *Reported to be fatal when ingested in quantity
Common Name Botanical Name Plant Part Common Name Botanical Name Plant Part
Air Potato Dioscorea bulbifera Raw fruit English Ivy Hedera helix Leaves, stem, fruit
Algerian Ivy* Hedera canariensis All parts Holly Ilex spp. Berries
Allamanda Allamanda spp. All parts Honeysuckle, Japanese and Trumpet* Lonicera japonica, Lonicera sempervirens All parts
Amaryllis Amaryllis spp. Bulbs & seeds Hydrangea, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Bigleaf Hydrangea, Smooth Hydrangea quercifolia, H. macrophylla, H. arborescens Leaves, bark
American Arborvitae* Thuja occidentalis Leaves Impatiens, balsam Impatiens spp. Leaves, stem, root
Angel’s Trumpet* Datura spp. All parts Iris Iris spp. Underground stems
Anise-tree* Illicium floridanum, Illicium anisatum Leaves Jack-in-thepulpit Arisaema spp. All parts
Azalea Rhododendron spp. All parts Juniper Juniperus spp. Berry-like seeds
Barberry Berberis spp. All parts Lantana* Lantana spp. Fruit
Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia Bark, seeds Lily—of-thevalley Convallaria majalis All parts
Boxwood Buxus sempervirens Leaves Lilies* (Rain Lily, Atamasco Lily, Easter Lily) Zephyranthus spp. All parts
Buckeye Aesculus spp. All parts Mahonia Mahonia spp. All parts
Caladium Caladium bicolor All parts Mimosa Albizzia spp. All parts
Calla-lily Zantedeschia spp. All parts Morning Glory Ipomoea spp. Seeds, root
Castor Bean Ricinus communis Seeds Mountain Laurel* Kalmia latifolia Leaves, twigs, flowers
Century Plant Agave americana Leaves Oleander* Nerium oleander L. All parts
Clematis Clematis spp. All parts Ornamental Tobacco* Nicotiana spp. All parts
Crinum Lily Crinum spp. Bulb Periwinkle (vine) Vinca minor All parts
Delphinium* Delphinium spp. All parts Plumbago Plumbago spp. Leaves, stem
Elephant Ear* Colocasia esculenta All parts Privet Ligustrum spp. Fruit
False Indigo* Baptisia spp. All parts Sago Palm Cycas revolute Seeds, root, trunk pith
Firethorn Pyracantha spp. Berries Sweet shrub Calycanthus floridus Seeds
Four-o-clock Mirabilis jalapa Root, seeds Trumpet Creeper Campsis radicans All parts except fruit
Ginkgo (female) Ginkgo biloba Fruit Wisteria Wisteria spp. Pods, seeds
Gloriosa Lily Gloriosa superba All parts Yew* Taxus spp. Berries, foliage

POISONOUS MUSHROOMS
Wild mushrooms are found in all parts of the Georgia landscape: pastures, lawns, forests, and organic mulch of all types. Also on stumps, living trees, and in the home, particularly in basements, plaster board walls, and flower pots. Mushrooms can be found throughout the year, mostly early spring through the fall, if temperature and moisture are suitable for their fruiting.

Mushroom poisoning is caused by the consumption of raw or cooked fruiting bodies (mushrooms or toadstools). The term toadstool is from the German Todesstuhl or Death Stool and is generally applied to poisonous mushrooms. For individuals, who are not expert at mushroom identification, there are no general rules to distinguish between edible mushrooms and poisonous toadstools. Old wives tales notwithstanding, toxic mushrooms cannot be made nontoxic by cooking, canning, freezing, or any other means of processing. The only way to avoid poisoning is to avoid ingesting toxic species.

Mushroom poisonings in the United States commonly occur among:

  • Expert and novice wild mushrooms hunters.
  • Among recent immigrants that eat wild mushrooms that resemble those of their native land.
  • Persons who intentionally consume psychedelic mushrooms.

Accurate figures on the relative frequency of mushroom poisonings are difficult to obtain. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta lists 44 cases reported between 1976 and 1981. The number of unreported cases is unknown. Poisonings tend to be grouped in the spring and fall when most mushrooms are in the fruiting stage. As Americans become more adventurous in their mushroom collection and consumption, poisonings are likely to increase.

About 98% of all “wild” mushrooms are not poisonous but about 1% are dangerous (1% are woody or too small to attract any interest). Wild mushrooms should not be eaten unless YOU personally can identify them as safe. Do not rely on the identification any wild mushroom by a neighbor or “expert” amateur mushroom hunter. Remember that “specialists” or “experts” have also been poisoned.

The physiological effects that generally categorize mushroom poisonings are:

  • Protoplasmic Poisons: Poisons that result in generalized destruction of cells and with amatoxins results in irreversible liver and kidney damage that is fatal.
  • Neurotoxins: Compounds that cause neurological symptoms such as profuse sweating, coma, convulsions, hallucinations, excitement, depression, and spastic colon.
  • Gastrointestinal Irritants: Compounds that produce rapid, transient nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea.
  • Disulfiram-like Toxins: Produce no symptoms unless alcohol is consumed within 72 hours after eating them, in which case a short-lived acute toxic syndrome is produced.

To identify unknown wild mushroom species, I would recommend the Federal Food and Drug Administrations website at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~mow/chap40.html. Since the retirement of Dr. David Porter, UGA’s Plant Pathology Department is ill prepared to identify questionable mushrooms species.

Georgia is home to several species of mushrooms that could cause death if only a single mushroom is eaten. Two such deadly species are the Destroying Angel, Amanita virosa, and the Autumn Skullcap, Galerina autumnalis. Some mushrooms that are not toxic under normal conditions can have a toxic reaction if consumed with alcohol.

SOME TOXIC MUSHROOMS  *Mushrooms contain protoplasmic toxins
Common Name
Botanical Name
Common Name
Botanical Name
Slender Death Angel* Amanita tenuifolia Autumn Skullcap* Galerina autumnalis
Death Angel* Amanita bisporigera Browning Parasol* Leucoagaricus brunnea
Fool’s Mushroom* Amanita verna Little Brown Mushroom (LBM)* Lepiota josserandii, L. helveola, L. subincarnata
Destroying Angel* Amanita virosa Green Gill Chlorophyllum molybdites
Deathcap (White cap)* Amanita phalloides Gray Pinkgill Entoloma lividum
Deathcap (green cap)* Amanita phalloides Tigertop Mushroom Tricholoma pardinum
Death cap (Yellow cap)* Amanita phalloides Jack O’Lantern Omphalotus olearius
Cleft Foot Deathcap* Amanita brunnescens Naked Brimcap Paxillus involutus

IN CASE OF A POISON EMERGENCY
In the event of a poison emergency call the Georgia Poison Center any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
In Metro-Atlanta Call: 404-616-9000
Outside of Metro-Atlanta Call: 1-800-282-5846
Teletype for the deaf and hearing impaired only: TTD 404-616-2987
If the poisoning occurs and the person is having trouble breathing, experiencing seizures, or will not wake up, Call 911 immediately.
Be prepared to give the attending physician:

  • The name of plant or mushroom, if known, or description (save uneaten parts).
  • How long ago it was eaten.
  • How much and which parts were eaten.
  • Age of individual.
  • Symptoms.

If hospitalization is required, take a portion of the suspect plant or mushroom with you for positive identification