The Dark Underworld of Competitive 'Shroom-Hunting

Often-obsessive hobby can result in fatalities from poisoning, falls—even murder
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2017 2:59 PM CST
An Obsessive Hobby That Can Be Fatal
The "toxic and hallucinatory" Amanita muscaria.   (Getty Images/Binnerstam)

What drives someone to head deep into the woods and spend hours foraging for fungi? Writing for Eater, the appropriately-named Joshua Hunt examines the seemingly obsessive quest for some of the world's rarest mushrooms. There's C. geaster, or "kirinomitake," for instance, which just one living person has spotted on Japanese soil; the only other place it appears to exist is in Texas, where it's been labeled Devil's Cigar. Then there's the edible matsutake, a highly coveted delicacy—"the standard against which all other fungi are measured." And of course Hunt would be remiss not to mention the mushroom that "kills more than any other": Amanita phalloides, or death cap, which doesn't give any indication of its poisonous traits until the day after someone eats one, slowly destroying the liver of the victim (who often attributes any initial symptoms to a minor stomach bug).

But it's not just ill-advised ingestion that makes mushroom hunting potentially perilous. Hunt points out that while just one American succumbed after popping a poison 'shroom in 2010, 18 people died that year in Italy in a 10-day span, dying from exposure while lost or dehydration and blood loss after a fall. There have also been reported incidents of violence, and even murder, as people suspect others of horning in on their turf: One Oregon woman said her husband got "whacked … in the head with a tree limb" by territorial competitors. Per some of these folks, there are two kinds who hunt mushrooms: "those searching for mushrooms, and those searching for money," Hunt writes, adding those who don't care about the cash seem to seek "something sensual, if not necessarily tangible—a psychedelic or culinary high." Read more on this fascinating preoccupation at Eater. (Pour a cup of mushroom coffee.)

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