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Toadstool of mythic proportions

The mushroom season is in full swing bringing us a bumper harvest of these fascinating fungi. The particular combinations of weather over the summer and autumn seasons has resulted in a greater variety of toadstools this year, at least around Tuttington.

One particularly spectacular species of toadstool is the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). The two individuals shown here were photographed in a garden in Tuttington this week.

The Fly Agaric is a member of a group of fungi called the Amanitas. Among this group are some deadly poisonous species including the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides), several related species called Destroying Angels, and the Fool’s Mushroom (Amanita verna). If consumed, some of these toxic toadstools can produce fatally irreversible organ damage before any symptoms appear. It is advisable never to consume wild toadstools unless guided by an expert.

The Fly Agaric is also poisonous but a little less toxic than the highly lethal Amanitas (but you are strongly advised not to try one!). But, there is much mythology associated with this toadstool across Europe partly due to its striking red cap with white spots and partly due to the fact it contains chemicals with halucinogenic properties.

There is much fokelore associated with our red and white-spotted toadstool. This includes links with Santa Claus. In some cultures, it is believed that Santa was a kind of shaman or soothsayer who used the hallucinogenic properties of the Fly Agaric mushroom in his rituals. It is also thought that the Fly Agaric is the origin of the colour of Santa’s winter coat.

Apparently, red and white spotted toadstools are also the resting place of choice of secretive gnomes. And, according to the mathematician and author of childrens books, Charles Dodgson, our favourite toadstool hosts a smoking caterpillar.

So, if you see one or a more of these beautiful and mythical fungi growing around the village, and especially if you spy a gnome hiding nearby, best leave them alone for others to enjoy and advise the younger members of your family to do likewise.

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