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I was living in Auckland, New Zealand, when I first spotted one of these mushrooms and I admit to having had a ‘wow’ moment. It was like walking into a fairytale … I half expected fairies and elves to emerge and perform a magical dance amongst the leaf litter. This is, after all, the classic what-every-kid-would-draw-if-you-asked-them mushroom.

151220 Amanita muscaria fly agaric (1)

The Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), also known as the Fly amanita and the Scarlet flycap, isn’t native to New Zealand but was unintentionally introduced there due to its rather intimate relationship with pine trees. Since its arrival, it has been quite wanton and, as it has now begun forming relationships with native trees, to the detriment of native fungi, it is considered a pest.

151220 Amanita muscaria fly agaric (2)

On the left, a young mushroom; on the right, an aging specimen

As the flesh of the Fly agaric contains psychoactive substances it has been used for centuries in religious and shamanistic rituals in Asia and parts of northern Europe. This fungus is, however, classified as poisonous, so forget the hallucinogenic adventure and feast with your eyes only!

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