Quick facts

Common names: fly agaric, fly amanita

Scientific name: Amanita muscaria

Family: Amanitaceae

Fruiting season: late summer to early winter

Habitat: woodland and heathland with host trees

What does fly agaric fungus look like?

Fly agaric has a bright red cap with white spots and white gills. It can grow to 20cm across and 30cm tall and has a savoury smell.

Cap: scarlet or orange colour, sometimes with white wart-like spots.

Gills: white to cream located under the cap. Closely packed and not joined to the stem.

Stipe (stalk): white with a brittle texture. The base has a bulbous volva (cup-like base from which the stem emerges) with shaggy rings of scales around it and a large skirt.

Spores: white and oval.

Not to be confused with: the blusher (Amanita rubescens), which is of similar shape, with a pale, reddish-brown cap and cream spots.

Credit: Ivan Kmit / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to find fly agaric 

Fly agaric is native to the UK. It grows in woodland and heathland on light soils among birch, pine or spruce. It is a fungus that often forms mycorrhizal associations with birch, but also other trees.

Spotted fly agaric?

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Did you know?

The 'spots' are remnants of the white veil of tissue that at first enclosed the young mushroom, and are sometimes washed off by the rain.

Mythology and symbolism 

Fly agaric has a long history of use in religious ceremonies, particularly in Asia. For over 4,000 years it was the ingredient in a sacred and hallucinogenic ritual drink called 'soma' in India and Iran; while the Siberian shamans would give it out as a gift in late December.

This toadstool has turned up in many fairy tale stories and features in the story of Alice in Wonderland when she is given some fly agaric to eat.

Credit: David Kjaer / naturepl.com

Uses of fly agaric 

Fly agaric is poisonous and infamous for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic properties. But, reports of human deaths are extremely rare. It was traditionally used as an insecticide. The cap was broken up and sprinkled into saucers of milk. It's known to contain ibotenic acid, which both attracts and kills flies – which gave it its name.

Did you know?

It was common on Christmas cards in Victorian and Edwardian times as a symbol of good luck and its colours are thought to have been the inspiration for Santa Claus's red and white suit.

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