Fly Agaric

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

fly agaric the name given to a poisonous mushroom, Amanita muscaria (fly amanita), because its juices were traditionally used in fly-papers to kill flies. It belongs to the same genus (see amanita for a description) as the fatal death cap, but its toxic properties are different, less strong and seldom fatal. It is even doubtful whether they are fatal to flies; according to controlled experiments, it is possible that they merely make flies ill.

The fly agaric is instantly recognizable: it is the pretty red-capped, white-speckled ‘toadstool’ shown in traditional fairy pictures. It grows up to 15 cm (6") tall and wide. (The variety regalis may be larger still.) The red cap often turns brownish. It grows abundantly all over Europe and N. America, in Japan, and also in Australia (probably as an immigrant from the northern hemisphere) and N. Africa, its preferred habitat being woods in autumn.