Destroying Angel – One of the World’s Deadliest Mushrooms

Plants and mushrooms are usually named for a particular feature or characteristic. These features often include a species color, fruit shape, growing season, or even their uses. Destroying angel mushrooms (Amanita bisporigera and Amanita ocreata) are named for their deadly potential and are as malicious as the name suggests.

Two Destroying Angel Mushrooms (Amanita bisporigera) | Photo by Jarek Tuszyński on Wikimedia Commons

If you’re familiar with Latin names, you’ll notice that destroying angel mushrooms are very closely related to another deadly fungus — the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). They belong to the same genus and both contain toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking, making them both incredibly deadly.

Where Will You Find Destroying Angel Mushrooms?

Mushrooms within the Amanita genus are generally found in woodlands and areas of ground very close to trees and shrubs. They tend to favor oak trees, but can often be found at the base of beech and hazel trees, and also conifer trees. The native range of most destroying angel mushrooms is North America, however, a European species known as Amanita virosa also exists.

A small group of European Destroying Angel Mushrooms (Amanita virosa) | Photo by Cephas
on Wikimedia Commons

The North American A. bisporigera species is usually found in northeastern states and also large parts of Canada. It’s often known as the eastern destroying angel. Their fruiting bodies will appear in early fall but can appear in late summer or late fall depending on the weather.

In direct contrast, the A. ocreata species of destroying angel favors western states, particularly along the Pacific coast. You’ll usually see the fruiting bodies emerging early in the year, between January and April.

Why are Destroying Angel Mushrooms Poisonous?

Like the closely related death cap mushroom, destroying angel mushrooms contain cyclopeptides known as amatoxins and phallotoxins. They’re both extremely poisonous toxins that are not destroyed by cooking (or drying), so these mushrooms shouldn’t be eaten under any circumstances.

The amatoxins are usually considered the most deadly, as they have the most dramatic effect on the liver and kidneys. Amatoxins can stop the liver from producing proteins that are necessary for normal cell functioning — which in turn will then cause devastating damage throughout the body, usually leading to death.

What are the Symptoms of Destroying Angel Poisoning?

Symptoms like extreme nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can begin up to 24 hours after eating a Destroying angel mushroom. However, the real damage will begin as soon as the mushroom begins to be processed by the body. A cruel twist is that after an initial bout of vomiting and sickness, a patient may begin to feel well again for a few short hours, before symptoms descend again, along with liver damage-related symptoms like jaundice or seizures.

A harmless looking mushroom can have fatal consequences. A. ocreata| Photo by Ron Pastorino (Ronpast) at Mushroom Observer

To survive Destroying angel poisoning treatment needs to begin as soon as possible. If the mushroom was eaten very recently, stomach pumping may be an option. But after 24 hours, often the only ‘cure’ can be a liver or kidney transplant.

For a full breakdown of what destroying angel poisoning is like, check out this detailed account from an individual who accidentally consumed some.

What Does a Destroying Angel Mushroom Look Like?

The destroying angel mushroom emerges from the ground as a white oval that is almost egg-shaped. As it matures it will produce a white cap that averages around 10-12cm in diameter. Like a number of mushrooms, the veil which coats the body of the destroying angel mushroom as it emerges from the ground can become stuck in patches on the cap of the mushroom.

It looks incredibly similar to the death cap mushroom — the main difference being that destroying angel mushrooms are usually fully white, compared to the off-white or olive green colored death cap.

Amanita phalloides group (species comparison to scale and with geographical distribution) A. Ocreata is second from the right on the top line. and A. bisporigera is bottom right | Graphic by Danny Cicchetti on Wikimedia Commons

Similar Edible Species

Young destroying angel mushrooms can resemble the edible puffball mushroom, and mature specimens can be confused with the edible wood mushroom (Agaricus silvicola). Because of their nondescript appearance, amateur foragers can mistake them for a number of species, particularly if they are foraging in a different country.

Cultural Symbolism and Mythology of Destroying Angel

Like the death cap mushroom, many cultures have long been aware of the poisonous nature of certain mushrooms, and know to avoid destroying angel mushrooms.

Of the thousands of mushroom species that exist, only a small collection of around 80 are poisonous, with a smaller number being fatal with only a small dose.

Because of its deadly nature, the destroying angel mushroom has had a major effect on how cultures perceive mushrooms. With parents teaching children to be careful, and almost every individual growing up with the knowledge to not eat any mushroom without significant foraging experience.

The “destroying angel” mushroom, species Amanita ocreata | Photo by Ryane Snow (snowman) at Mushroom Observer

Did You Know…

The name destroying angel was supposedly chosen as the mushroom is all white, which is often a symbol of purity and safety, but instead, this mushroom is incredibly deadly.


Alongside the death cap mushroom, Destroying angel is responsible for the greatest number of fatalities caused by ingesting mushrooms. Because of this, foragers who collect and consume wild mushrooms know to follow an extremely strict identification process. Accidental consumption and misidentification do sadly still occur from time to time.

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