Correction: In the first publication of this blog, I mistakenly used a photograph of Amanita frostiana by Eric Smith and attributed it to a different Mushroom Observer user; I sincerely apologize for this error and have added the photo I initially intended to use, which is by Dave Wasilewski.
The main wild mushroom season is upon us at last in North Carolina, and it couldn’t have come too soon; after a long and cold winter and fickle spring with a short morel mushroom window, I was sorely in need of some mushroom-finding therapy.
This post is dedicated to one of the more popular edible mushrooms in the eastern United States, Amanita jacksonii, which is a North American member of the Caesar’s Amanita group. Amanita jacksonii is one of those mushrooms that people really seem to like eating, and although I am very familiar with it, I must confess that I haven’t ever eaten it myself. As I explained in my post on the Amanita genus generally, I am cautious about eating any wild mushroom that I don’t know inside out, and this is even more the case when it comes to the delightfully beautiful Amanitas that are so common in the forests and fields of the North Carolina Piedmont.
That said, I wanted to get some basic identification info out there, as well as a few notes on potential lookalike species for Amanita jacksonii, as well as a bit of information about the place that Amanita jacksonii occupies in the mushroom taxonomy universe. One way or the other, maybe this will be helpful to you in your own mycophilic journey.
Yours In Fungal Fancy,
Amanita jacksonii, A Jewel-Red Amanita With a Die-Hard Following
“I love Amanita jacksonii. It tastes like fancy cheese.”
“Oh, Amanita jacksonii? Yeah that’s one of my favorites. I cannot really describe the flavor, but I salivate anytime someone mentions them.”
“Hey, is this Amanita jacksonii? I think it’s Amanita jacksonii. Yeah, I am pretty sure, look at how red it is…what’s that you’re saying? I don’t get it; what are striations? What is a volva?”
These three statements sort of sum up my experience with Amanita jacksonii; either people love them and know them as a wonderful edible mushroom, or they’re desperate to give them a try.
This is not to denigrate those who want to add Amanita jacksonii to their “yup, done ate it and loved it” list, but it’s quite important to know the basic mycology lingo for the different parts of Amanita mushrooms before diving into a meal of mushrooms that you think are Amanita jacksonsii, because without a few foundational vocabulary words, identification field guides won’t offer you the clarity you need to be sure that your mushroom truly is Amanita jacksonii.
Hint: if you don’t know what striations are, or you think that a volva is simply a dirty-sounding anatomy word, you’re probably better off sticking with chanterelles, hedgehogs, black trumpets, lion’s mane, chicken of the woods, and other easily identified edible wild mushrooms for the time being…and there is no shame in that; these are my staple wild mushrooms, and I’ve been hunting wild fungi for years and feel very comfortable eating foraged foods.
Amanita jacksonii is a widely gathered and popular edible mushroom that has a significant range in the eastern regions of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. It is possible that in the future we will discover that there are subspecies within the designation Amanita jacksonii (or even additional species that have been erroneously called Amanita jacksonii), but for now, it’s considered a rather easily identified and beloved mushroom with an extensive geographical range.
As with all Amanita mushrooms, Amanita jacksonii must be identified with care, but as luck would have it, its striking identification features make it pretty distinctive, and if you have a solid mushroom identification foundation, I think you’re very unlikely to make a mistake with Amanita jacksonii.
However, given that there are some very poisonous Amanitas out there, as well as many others that have never been taste-tested (after all, who wants to be the guy who tries that newly discovered Amanita for the first time?), it’s important to be cautious about gathering and eating Amanita jacksonii.
Amanita jacksonii – Key Identification Features
Amanita jacksonii is a hardwood-loving species of Amanita that grows in the summer and early fall in North Carolina, particularly in oak groves, beech stands, and mixed woods. It’s been reported to occur from Quebec to the Mexican state of Hidalgo, and it’s but one mushroom in the Caesarea section of the Amanita genus. For reference, Amanita and other genera of mushrooms are often broken into “sections” that share genetic and morphological features (morphological simply means how the mushroom looks to the casual observer without the help of a microscope), and Amanita jacksonii is in the same section as the classic European Caesar’s Amanita, Amanita caesaria.
Amanita jacksonii is typically bright red or vermillion in color, although the center or edges of the cap can fade to orange and yellow as the mushroom ages, and when it first emerges from its protective universal veil (which looks like an egg), it can be chestnut-colored or more orange in color.
There are some related species in the genus Amanita that are quite similar to Amanita jacksonii, including Amanita arkansana and Amanita banningiana (provisionally named, also called Amanita species 04), both of which also possess similar features as Amanita jacksonii. These other species, however, tend to be more orange-brown or yellow-orange in color, whereas Amanita jacksonii is a bright red mushroom.
Amanita jacksonii has a slim yellow stem, a beautiful yellow to orange ring on the stalk that looks like a skirt, and yellow to orange-yellow gills. Another important identification feature are shreds or fibers of orange tissue on the stem, which are the remains of an internal layer of colored tissue that forms inside the mushroom’s white universal veil.
The gills of Amanita jacksonii make this species distinct from many other Amanita mushrooms, because a majority of Amanitas have white gills. These gills are often detached from the stem or just barely attached to it; if you have found a orange-red mushroom with decurrent gills that run down the stem or firmly attached gills, it’s likely not an Amanita at all! The spore print of Amanita jacksonii is white.
The caps of Amanita jacksonii are also marked by prominent striations, which are vertical lines along the margin of the cap that make the mushroom look a bit like an umbrella (although you’d have to have a lot of spokes on your umbrella to truly mimic the numerous striations on your average Amanita jacksonii). At times, Amanita jacksonii will sport a big, thick white patch of universal veil tissue on the cap, which looks a bit like a fuzzy skullcap. As the mushroom ages, Amanita jacksonii often develops a bump on the center of the cap.
One of the most important identification features of Amanita jacksonii is the volva at the base of the stem. A volva is the remnant of the mushroom’s universal veil, which is a protective layer of tissue that shields the baby mushroom before it’s ready to spring into action and grow to full size. As the mushroom grows, the universal veil bursts, and in the case of Amanita jacksonii, it leaves a big white sac of tissue at the base of the stem that has a clean, sharp edge that is not ragged or easily torn.
The volva tissue of Amanita jacksonii is fuzzy and white, somewhat like a pressed cotton ball. This sac-like volva is perhaps the most significant feature of Amanita jacksonii that distinguishes it from lookalike species such as Amanita flavoconia, Amanita parcivolvata, Amanita frostiana, and Amanita muscaria.
Amanita jacksonii lookalikes
Although there are no red Amanita mushrooms that are thought to be deadly, it’s important to practice care with identifying Amanita jacksonii because it does have a few lookalike species that are common during the same time of year. Here are the key features of each. Of them, only Amanita muscaria is listed as toxic, and although some people eat this mushroom after parboiling it and carefully removing the boiling water, in general it’s one of those mushrooms that’s probably best avoided. For more on the toxicity of Amanita muscaria, see this post from several months ago, which is an account of a friend of mine who accidentally ended up tripping on Amanita muscaria after boiling the mushrooms in an attempt to remove the psychoactive compounds from them.
Just a quick note on sources here, in case there’s a mushroom taxonomy nerd reading: most of my information was gathered from Mushroom Expert, Studies in Amanitaceae, crowd/forum sites like Shroomery and Mushroom Observer, and the various identification field guides that I own. If you note anything that I have not stated clearly, or that I’ve missed, please let me know and I will happily add clarifying notes if necessary!
Amanita muscaria, Including Amanita muscaria var. guessowii – Fly Agaric Mushroom, Listed as Toxic
Amanita muscaria (the fly agaric) is one of the world’s prettiest and most iconic mushrooms, and it is relatively common in the eastern United States at the same time of year as Amanita jacksonii. It has several key differences from Amanita jacksonii. First of all, Amanita muscaria has white gills, where Amanita jacksonii has yellow to orange gill coloration. Secondly, Amanita muscaria’s volva tends to be ragged, often taking the form of shaggy concentric ridges at the base of the stem (see photograph for more detail on the average appearance of Amanita muscaria’s volva/universal veil remnant), and the base of the stem ends with a bulb. Another difference between Amanita muscaria and Amanita jacksonii is in basic shape and size; Amanita muscaria tends to be stocky, with a thick and chunky stem, whereas Amanita jacksonii has a slender and more fragile stem on average.
The feature that makes Amanita muscaria so memorable is it’s polka dots. The universal veil tissue of Amanita muscaria tends to stick to the cap of the mushroom once it emerges from its egg, leaving a number of small dots of fuzzy white or off-white tissue that makes the mushroom look like it’s wearing a 1950s-style polka-dotted dress. As the mushroom ages, however, sometimes these veil remnants wash away, and so this feature is not universally present.
Although the classic Amanita muscaria is bright red, there is a very common subspecies of this mushroom that is yellow to reddish-yellow, which goes by the name Amanita muscaria var. guessowii. This mushroom often has more yellow coloration all over the fruiting body than its bright red and snow white cousins, and for this reason it looks a good bit more like Amanita jacksonii than other fly agaric mushrooms.
Amanita parcivolvata – Ringless False Fly Agaric, Edibility Unknown
Amanita parcivolvata is another mushroom that could be mistaken for Amanita jacksonii; this slender-stemmed, yellow-gilled Amanita mushroom has a vermillion-colored cap that often takes on yellow and orange tones, in much the same way as Amanita jacksonii. However, Amanita parcivolvata has a yellow and very small, tattered volva at the base of the stem, which is starkly different from the clean-edged, sac-like volva of Amanita jacksonii.
In addition, Amanita parcivolvata does not have a ring on the stem at all, whereas Amanita jacksonii typically has a very prominent and well-formed skirt-like ring on the stalk of the full-grown mushroom. Finally, Amanita parcivolvata often has bits of universal veil tissue stuck to the top of its red-orange cap, although these remnants take the form of dots or peels of tissue, rather than a skullcap-like deposit of white tissue that sometimes appears on Amanita jacksonii mushrooms. One thing that these two mushrooms share is striations on the cap; both of these species have vertical lines on the rim of the cap that are quite pronounced (especially with full-grown specimens), so this is something to watch for if you’re trying to distinguish between Amanita parcivolvata and its other Amanita brethren.
Amanita flavoconia – American Yellow-Dust Amanita, Edibility Unknown
Amanita flavoconia is yet another red-orange Amanita mushroom that is tall and slender, and overall it has a lot of common features with Amanita jacksonii, but it can be distinguished from our beloved Caesar’s Amanita on account of a few traits that differ between the two. First of all, Amanita flavoconia has a universal veil remnant at the base of the stem that is yellow, powdery, and indistinct, which looks drastically different from Amanita jacksonii’s prominent white egg/sac universal veil. The stem ends in a basal bulb, so if you dig this mushroom up you will discover a slightly enlarged bulb at its terminus.
Secondly, the gills of Amanita flavoconia are typically white, although they do tend to yellow at the edges (especially with age), so it’s important to check carefully on this feature if you’re trying to be sure that you’ve found Amanita jacksonii. Additionally, Amanita flavoconia rarely has cap striations; sometimes it will develop faint lines on the edge of the cap, but not nearly so boldly or consistently as Amanita jacksonii. The cap of Amanita flavoconia is sticky under most circumstances, which sometimes gives it a slimy or glossy look, and it tends to be on the more yellow-orange side of things instead of being bold red.
Amanita flavoconia often has scattered warts that are yellow or yellow-orange in color, which are bits of its universal veil. Some specimens of this mushroom look like a yellow and orange version of Amanita muscaria, but these yellow-orange warts of tissue wash off and wear away easily, so this is not a consistent, sure-fire way of identifying Amanita flavoconia.
Amanita frostiana – Frost’s Amanita, Edibility Unknown
Amanita frostiana is a common and widespread mushroom in the eastern United States and Canada, and it is often mistaken for Amanita flavoconia. This mushroom is a pretty one indeed, although it’s often quite small in statute, and it starts to appear in the spring in North Carolina and persists throughout the summer months. It tends to be yellow-orange in color, although the center of the cap can develop a disc of reddish color that makes it look rather like Amanita jacksonii in terms of cap coloration. Amanita frostiana’s cap is striated, just like Amanita jacksonii’s.
Amanita frostiana can be distinguished from Amanita jacksonii based on the features that follow. First of all, the volva at the base of this mushroom’s stem is collar-like, rather than sac-like; the difference between the two is that a collar-like volva is attached to the stem for the most part, and forms a ring of tissue at the base of the stem that is separate from the stem itself, but only along the margin of the collar, which sort of looks like the top of a turtleneck or a straight-collared shirt.
The volva of Amanita frostiana is white to yellow-white, and the stem ends in a stumpy, abrupt, white basal bulb. The stem of Amanita frostiana is white, and it has a yellow ring on the stalk that is usually present, but is less pronounced and skirt-like than that of Amanita jacksonii.
Amanita frostiana, like other mushrooms mentioned above, often has warts of universal veil tissue stuck to its cap, but does not form a “skullcap” of universal veil tissue, which is sometimes the case with Amanita jacksonii. The gills of Amanita frostiana are creamy-colored, not yellow or yellow-orange, which is another thing that sets it apart from Amanita jacksonii.
For me, the top distinguishing features of this mushroom are its collar-shaped volva, creamy gills, and white stem. In addition, its yellow to yellow-orange coloration helps key it down to species, even though as mentioned it can develop reddish tones, especially in older specimens. Taken all together, this mushroom has a distinct character that sets it apart from Amanita jacksonii.
Concluding Thoughts on Amanita jacksonii
Amanita jacksonii is one of those mushrooms that I greatly appreciate from an aesthetic perspective; especially when they are young and just emerging from their egg-like universal veils, this mushroom is really easy on the eyes and gives one a deep appreciation for the evolutionary smarts of the Amanita genus. The fact that this mushroom is constructed so that it is completely shielded from outside elements until it’s ready to burst forth and grow to its full size has always made me reflect on the inherent evolutionary intelligence of mushrooms.
I will confess, until I have a year or two more of North Carolina mushroom hunting experience under my belt, I won’t be collecting and eating Amanita jacksonii; it’s one of those things that I want to see many many times before I decide to take the plunge, if only to prevent waking in the middle of the night and pacing around with a bottle of milk thistle tablets in one hand and a mushroom identification field guide in the other, fretting about having eaten something that’s listed as “edibility unknown.” Call me a coward if you wish (I don’t mind! I’ll just go hide in the closet for a while!), but I still am uneasy eating Amanitas of any sort, even though I am quite familiar with this species and those other red, red-orange, and yellow-red-orange mushrooms that grow all around the North Carolina Piedmont.
…But don’t let that discourage you! If you feel confident in your ability to ID Amanita jacksonii, you can join the happy millions (OK, maybe happy thousands, us mycophiles are none too numerous in North America) who enjoy this mushroom tremendously. Please report back with flavor notes.