Mushroom Poisonings

    Today as Maxine and I stopped to visit with a friend in McCall, Idaho1, she received a call from the Valley County Hospital2 in Cascade, Idaho3.  Our friend, Hope Miller, has worked for many years in mycology, the study of mushrooms.  She and her late4 husband, Orson K. Miller, were mycological colleagues5 of mine and all of us have helped identify6 mushrooms which are poisonous7 to persons who eat them.  The doctors at Valley County Hospital were calling about a case of mushroom poisoning of a husband and wife who had eaten mushrooms about four hours earlier. Both of them became sick and entered the emergency room8 in Cascade hospital for help.

      The doctors reported that the man and woman had found what they thought were “puff balls9” in the woods northeast of McCall.  Because the couple knew most white puff balls were edible10, they ate some with their breakfast. 

      Hope knew the procedure11 well.  First, she asked whether the couple had brought any of the fresh mushrooms along with them to the hospital.  Fortunately they had, but the doctors did not recognize what type of mushroom it actually was.  They reported that the patients had teary eyes12, excessive salivation13, and sweating14 along with nausea15 and vomiting16.

      Next, Hope asked whether they could deliver the suspect mushrooms17 to her home, where she and Orson have studied mushrooms with books, microscopes18 and other instruments needed for mushroom identification19.  Yes, they could, and the mushroom arrived at her home in McCall about half an hour later.

      Both Hope and I recognized the mushroom as Amanita muscaria var. formosa, a variant of the Fly Mushroom20 which is common at this season in the mountains of this area. It resembled a puffball in shape and was whitish-yellow color, but in fact it was actually the early stage of the mushroom just emerging from the soil. 

      We cut the mushroom lengthwise21 and confirmed22 the presence of the cap23 with gills24, the stem, and we noted a few of the whitish scales25 present on the upper surface.  We confirmed our identification in the Mushrooms of North America book which Orson and Hope had completed writing shortly before Orson’s death last summer.  If we had not been certain of identification, we would have looked at the spores26 and other microscopic aspects27 of the mushroom, or we might have treated it with specific chemicals which cause color changes in the tissue of the mushroom.  But, in this case, there were no spores in the immature stage28, and no chemical staining29 was necessary.

      Hope returned the phone call to the hospital in Cascade, reported our identification of the mushroom involved, and assured the doctors that the patients would be sick for a few hours, but that they would recover without permanent damage31 from eating the mushroom.

      It is fortunate that there are certified mycologists32 who are known to medical centers so it is possible to learn exactly which mushrooms are involved in poisoning cases, and to make this knowledge available to doctors treating the patients.  Some mushrooms are safe to eat, but others could cause death or serious illness. 

      Hope will send a written report of this poisoning incident to the Rocky Mountain Mushroom Poisoning Center33 where it will be recorded in the national records of mushroom poisoning in North America.  These records are published each year so that, at least, mycologists know how many poisonings are reported, and which mushroom type is responsible for each poisoning case reported.  


1. McCall, Idaho: a small city in the state of Idaho, a center for recreational tourism in the east central part of the state.

2. Valley County Hospital: a medical facility located in the same county as McCall, Idaho; where county offices are located.

3. Cascade Idaho: a city in Valley County where the county offices are located; about 30 miles south of McCall, Idaho.

4. late: referring to a person who has died; no longer alive (已故的).

5. mycological colleagues: persons who are involved in the technical study of mushrooms and who know one another well; work together in mycology, often members of the same organizations (研究真菌学的同行们).

6. identify: determine precisely (what the type or species of mushroom is) (确认).

7. poisonous: 有毒的

8. emergency room:急诊室

9. puff balls: a group of mushrooms which are round and the interior of which is filled with tissue which develops into spores (芽孢), the reproductive units which are windborne (由风传播的) and which start new growth at some distance.  Some puff balls are edible (可食用的), others are poisonous.

10. edible: capable of being eaten without adverse effects on the person eating them.

11. procedure: the method involved in doing a specific task (方法,步骤). In this case, the steps involved in dealing with a suspected mushroom poisoning case.

12. teary eyes:眼睛眼泪汪汪

13. excessive salivation: unusually large amount of saliva (唾液) being produced in the mouth.

14. sweating:不断出汗

15. nausea:恶心

16. vomiting:呕吐

17. suspect mushrooms: the mushrooms which have been eaten, and which are possibly associated with the illness of the person who has eaten them (可疑的蘑菇).

18. microscopes:显微镜

19. identification:确认

20. Amanita muscaria var. Formosa, a variant of the Fly mushroom: 蛤蟆菌的一种,有毒,但多数情况下不致命。

21. lengthwise: 纵向的

22. confirmed: 肯定了

23. cap: the expanded, umbrella-like part of a mushroom

24. gills: leaf-like, thin structures found on the bottom of a mushroom cap (蘑菇盖下面像鱼鳃状的细褶).

25. scales: small, flat pieces of tissue found on the upper surface of a mushroom, or on the stem of a mushroom (鳞叶).

26. spores: microscopic bodies produced by fungi which serve as reproductive bodies for spreading of the mushroom in nature (孢子,芽孢).

27. microscopic aspects: characteristics visible only with the magnification by lenses of a microscope (用显微镜才能看到的特征).

28. immature stage: a developmental stage of an organism (未成熟期).  Important in mushroom identification because of the fact that precise identity may require the knowledge of size, shape, and surface aspects of spores.  Spores are not formed until maturation of the mushroom.

29. chemical staining:化学显色法

30. recover: get well after having been ill from a specific cause (恢复).

31. permanent damage: harm to a patient which cannot be cured or ended (永久性伤害).

32. certified mycologists: scientists who specialize in the study of fungi or mushrooms, and who have the knowledge of these organisms (持有证件的真菌研究学者).

33. The Rocky Mountain Mushroom Poisoning Center: a center for collecting information on mushroom poisonings in the western part of the United States. This is located in Denver, Colorado and is one of a series of regional centers where data is collected and sent to the national center for mushroom poisonings.






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