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Poisonous mushrooms: 7 of the most dangerous mushrooms in the UK

I don’t want to fill you with dread and fear but there are poisonous mushrooms out there. And some of them are deadly.

Our mistrust of mushrooms is summed up by the word ‘toadstool’. It’s indiscriminately applied to many species of fungi all over the UK. Toads were once considered venomous and so were toadstools. All of them were considered ‘poisonous damp weeds’ according to old herbalists.

The worst have sinister names such as destroying angel, funeral bell and death cap – a warning to steer clear. Here are seven poisonous mushrooms to watch out for in the UK.

Deadly webcap (Cortinarius rubellus)

Deadly webcap appears between August and November in conifer and spruce woods. (Photo: Alamy)
Deadly webcap appears between August and November in conifer and spruce woods. (Photo: Alamy)

A deadly poisonous mushroom. It’s rare in the UK, but responsible for several deaths in Europe. People have eaten it after mistaking it for chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) and magic mushroom (Psilocybe species).

Where: in coniferous pine and spruce woods. It grows grows on the ground often among heather and bilberry.

When: August to November.

Symptoms: the webcaps contains a long-lasting poison called orellanine. Initial effects kick in two to three days after ingestion. It includes flu-like symptoms, headache, vomiting, kidney failure and possible death. You’ll also get the same symptoms from its relative the fool’s webcap (Cortinarius orellanus).

Death cap (Amanita phalloides)

Death cap is responsible for most fatal mushroom poisonings around the world. (Photo: Alamy/Wolstenholme Images)
Death cap is responsible for most fatal mushroom poisonings around the world. (Photo: Alamy/Wolstenholme Images)

The most deadly fungus known and it's common in England. It’s responsible for most fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide.

Where: in broadleaved woods, it grows on the ground.

When: August to November.

Symptoms: initial symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain from 6 to 24 hours after ingestion. Causes kidney and liver failure. Ingestion of just half a cap can lead to death.

Destroying angel (Amanita virosa)

Beautiful but dangerous. Destroying angel can be found in mixed broadleaf and birch woodland. (Photo: Alamy)
Beautiful but dangerous. Destroying angel can be found in mixed broadleaf and birch woodland. (Photo: Alamy)

A pure white, deadly poisonous mushroom. Apparently, just a piece of destroying angel in a soup made from otherwise edible species is enough to kill everyone who eats the soup.

Where: broadleaved and mixed woodland especially birch woodland. It grows on the ground.

When: July to November.

Symptoms: contains deadly amatoxin poisons. Effects are seen 8 to 24 hours after ingestion and include vomiting, diarrhoea, and severe stomach pains. There may be a deceiving period of improvement before the second effects of liver and kidney poisoning occur.

Funeral bell (Galerina marginata)

The ominous sounding funeral bell appears on dead and decaying wood. (Photo: Alamy)
The ominous sounding funeral bell appears on dead and decaying wood. (Photo: Alamy)

A small but deadly mushroom that grows in clusters on tree stumps and bark. It’s not particularly common in Britain.

Where: mixed or coniferous woods. Grows on dead and decaying wood.

When: August to November.

Symptoms: also contains deadly poisonous amatoxins - the same poisons as death cap. It causes vomiting, liver damage and possible death.

Fool's funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa)

Also known as the sweating mushroom, fool's funnel occurs in grassy areas. (Photo: iStock)
Also known as the sweating mushroom, fool's funnel occurs in grassy areas. (Photo: iStock)

It’s also known as the sweating mushroom, describing its potentially deadly effects. It often grows alongside the edible Scotch bonnet (Marasmius oreades) so take care if you’re on an edible mushroom foray.

Where: lawns, meadows and other grassy areas.

When: July to early December.

Symptoms: contains the toxin muscarine which has many effects on the body when ingested, including excessive salivation, sweating and tear production. In large doses, symptoms include abdominal pain, sickness, diarrhoea, blurred vision and laboured breathing. It can cause death in severe cases, but is rarely fatal in healthy people.

Panther cap (Amanita pantherina)

Panther cap is the sinister but less common sister to fly agaric. (Photo: Alamy)
Panther cap is the sinister but less common sister to fly agaric. (Photo: Alamy)

A beautiful but poisonous mushroom that’s uncommon in the UK. It contains similar toxins to those in fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Where: broadleaved woods, especially beech or oak.

When: July to November.

Symptoms: intense sickness can occur after ingestion but the main effects are on the central nervous system. They include vivid hallucinations, confusion, visual distortion, a feeling of greater strength, delusions and convulsions. It can be fatal in rare cases.

Angel's wings (Pleurocybella porrigens)

A pretty bracket fungus that's found in the Scottish Highlands and Cumbria. (Photo: Alamy)
A pretty bracket fungus that's found in the Scottish Highlands and Cumbria. (Photo: Alamy)

This distinctive pure white bracket-like fungus grows in clusters on decaying conifer wood. It’s quite common in the Scottish Highlands and in Cumbria but it’s rare elsewhere. Just appreciate it for its beauty.

Where: in conifer woodlands. It grows on decaying stumps and branches.

When: Autumn.

Symptoms: cases of poisoning after ingesting this species have been recorded. Chemicals in the mushroom are toxic to the brain and can cause permanent brain injuries or possibly death.

Do you know field mushroom from fly agaric?

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