Amanita muscaria   

Plant of the week 3

Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. Although the days are still growing colder, the rangers have been hard at work and keeping their eyes peeled for any “Weekly Plants of Interest” that they may encounter on our trails or in the reserve.
This week we introduce Amanita muscaria commonly known as the Fly Agaric or Vlieëgifswam, in Afrikaans. Strictly speaking, the Fly Agaric is not a plant at all but it is classified as a form of fungus. This species is widespread throughout South Africa (the author has observed A. muscaria in the Garden Route of the Western Cape), and occurs in combination with certain plants in gardens and even plantations. The Fly Agaric “fruits” (think blooms) in summer up until late autumn/early winter. The cap is globose to flat, with small white “dots” and an overall orange to yellow colour. The stipe is white, firm and cylindrical.

Some of the uses of the Fly Agaric include:
– The fruit body was used traditionally as a natural fly trap (hence the common name)
– As one of the “magic mushrooms” it intoxicates the system inducing hallucinations.

Warning: This week’s PoI has poisoning symptoms that may be fatal in large doses and include nausea, vomiting, giddiness, hallucinations, convulsions and loss of consciousness.
Fungi occur in 2 major groups: macro and microfungi, the latter is only observable with the aid of microscopic lenses. The roles of fungi in nature are often overlooked but they nonetheless play a crucial role in most ecosystems. Some of their many functions include the decomposition of soil, dead wood and dung, controlling certain plant populations and some fungi may even be the cause of diseases in animal populations including humans.  Fungi have also had a profound influence on humans in the medical industry (think of penicillin), as culinary delights and have even been used in beverage production.

Author: Damien Coulson