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Amanita Muscaria: the Truth Behind the Fairy Tale

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Amanita Muscaria: The Truth Behind The Fairy Tale
Tim May
BIO 101
May 18, 2012
Teacher’s Name

Amanita Muscaria: The Truth Behind The Fairy Tale Deep in the Pacific North West forest, there is a magical mushroom. One that has helped influence many types of people and even helped create mystical pictures. It is often illustrated with unicorns, pixies, and the occasional frog. They are also very frequently mentioned in many fairy tales that so many children grow up on. This enchanting mushroom is called the Amanita muscaria by mycologists; everyone else refers to it as Fly Agaric, Beni Tengutake, or simply the Fairy Mushroom (Erowid & Erowid, 2012). The Amanita muscaria is a large and conspicuous mushroom that usually grows in groups. The caps are generally bright red or scarlet in color but can also range in colors from yellows to oranges. The average cap is between three and eight inches, however, some the size of dinner plates, have been found. The cap is also covered in white to yellow flecks or warts which are actually remnants of the universal veil. The gills and stem are also white, along with the spore print. The stem, which contains a basal bulb, is generally between two and eight inches tall but there have been finds of taller specimens. It should also be noted that with age and rain, these mushrooms can fade and become flaccid (without its color and spots, this mushroom can easily be misidentified). The texture for the majority of this mushroom is slightly brittle and fibrous (CHEMIE.DU Information Services GmbH, 2012). Amanita muscaria was officially named in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus and Jean Baptiste. Working our way down the taxonomic hierarchy, these are the proper classifications for this species. The kingdom is Fungi; the division, Basidiomycota. Homobasidiomycota is the class and Hymenomycetes is the subclass. Next is the order coming in with Agaricales. The family name is Amanitaceae and the genus is Amanita. Since the species is A. Muscaria, it is essential to know that most mycologists have decided that there are seven different variants to this species which include muscaria, flavivolvata, alba, formosa, guessowii, persicina, and regalis (CHEMIE.DU Information Services GmbH, 2012). Each of these subspecies have different shades of color and different effects if consumed, it also important to note that the intensity of these mushrooms depends on the location of growth and the time of year that it is harvested. Being a very hardy mushroom in the wild, this species can be found in Hindu Kush, Mediterranean and Central America, the Siberian-Beringian region, Asia, Europe, and North America. It has even been transported to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America (CHEMIE.DU Information Services GmbH, 2012). Fruiting of this fungi is generally in the summer and autumn seasons, however, in the Pacific North West, it can even mature in late autumn and early winter. Another important aspect of where to find these beautiful mushrooms is their mycorrhizal relationships. In order for these mushrooms to survive, they must have trees around and even more specifically they like birch, spruce, pine, fir, and cedar. Many have tried to cultivate these fungi, but in “captivity” they do not do well. Due to their hardiness, they have been known to adapt in other places by jumping species like when they were introduced in Australia and they choose to survive with the Eucalyptus (Erowid & Erowid, 2012). This really is a fascinating species. So what does beautiful Amanita muscaria do that makes it special? Well, the Amanita muscaria var. Muscaria is considered to be a psychedelic. One of the nick names given is the Fly Aragic, which simply put, means fly killer; people around the world have been mixing it with milk for years to attract the pesky insects. Once the fly consumes some of this concoction, it becomes inebriated and flies into walls, killing its self (Erowid & Erowid, 2012). People around the world have also been consuming it for the psychoactive qualities. There are even images that have been discovered from 3500 BC illustrating the usage of this psychoactive fungus. There is also very strong evidence that it was also used in the Siberia region. While Western Siberia reserved it for the use by Shamans, the eastern side showed use throughout all levels of society. It was said that the Shamans used it to achieve a trance like states that were said to help them speak to their gods and spirits. This group even went as far as including the mushroom in their legends; one example is the story about Vahiyinin, loosely translated to “existence” (CHEMIE.DU Information Services GmbH, 2012). Siberians were not the only group to find the psychoactive A. Muscaria useful and interesting; there are many unconfirmed stories from throughout the world (however, highly likely). In Afghanistan, there is a group of Parachi-speaking Sami people and two Sub-artic Native American tribes called the Ojibway and the Dogrib. Many India religion and Buddist scriptures also had reference to its use. There have even been stories that go all the way back to Greek mythology and the Dioysian Rites! John Marco Allegro wrote an interesting book with a strong argument that considered that the Christianity Religion was derived from a sex and psychoactive mushroom cult (CHEMIE.DU Information Services GmbH, 2012). Another fascinating fact is that A. Muscaria, however unpredictable, has the very common side effect of erasing fear. With this in mind, think of the Vikings. It is said that the Vikings would consume these mushrooms before invading and that is why they went “berserk” on their enemies (Volk, 1999). Bringing the time to the present and looking at human entertainment, there are several excellent examples of A. Muscaria usage. Remember the caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland, written be Lewis Carroll? It is very likely that the mushroom he resided on was a psychedelic and even more likely, was the mushroom intake by the author. Generically, think about some of the old fables that have been passed down through the ages, many of them have reference to “special mushrooms.” There is also a fairly large collection of artwork that includes faeries, unicorns, wizards, and the such, with details of white spotted, scarlet red mushroom. In 1940, Disney produced Fantasia which included the sequence of the “dancing mushrooms.” The 1980’s gave us Super Mario Brothers in which Mario consumed mushrooms to gain lives and grow “bigger” and The Smurfs, who lived in mushrooms that very closely resembled the A. Muscaria. Lastly, Jonathan Ott, a famous Mycologist, made an amazing argument that claimed the origin of Santa Claus was due to A. muscaria. The mushroom is generally red with white, as is Santa’s suit. There is also the parallel that can be made with the flying reindeer and the euphoric results of consumption. And interestingly enough is the story of the Shamans of Siberia going into the homes throughout the village and placing fresh Muscaria into the stockings that were hung over the fire: a great place for them to dry out and be ready for consumption for celebration the following day (CHEMIE.DU Information Services GmbH, 2012). Amantia muscaria is a fascinating and unique species. Even though it grows in many different areas throughout the world, it needs trees to be able to survive, preferably conifers. Another interesting fact is that depending on the region, the fruiting time may vary. Taking that into consideration and the time of harvest, the potency can be affected. It is also important to know the variant of the species to know if it is safe to eat, psychedelic, or deadly poisonous (Volk, 1999). It is also interesting the way it has influenced so many groups of people and the entertainment that many still get today for just a simple mushroom. A. Muscaria is not just something to go out and try either; consuming too much or some that are extra potent can cause nausea, vomiting, muscle twitching, and increased salivation and sweating. It will also impair judgment. And even though, there have only been two recorded instances of death due to A. muscaria, once ingested there is nothing to do but wait it out (Erowid & Erowid, 2012). As fun as some of the information about Amanita muscaria sounds, if you think it would be a fun “trip,” stick to the safer Psilocybe.

References
Erowid, Fire and Erowid, Earth. (2012). Psychoactive Amanitas. The Vaults of Erowid. Retrieved on May 12, 2012 from http://www.erowid.org/plants/amanitas/amanitas.shtml
Volk, Tom. (1999). This month’s fungus is Amanita Muscaria, the fly agaric. Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month for December 1999. Retrieved on May 12, 2012 from http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/dec99.html
CHEMIE.DE Information Service GmbH. (2012). Amanita Muscaria. Chem Europe Encyclopedia. Retrieved on May 12, 2012 from http://www.chemeurope.com/en/encyclopedia/Amanita_muscaria.html…...

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