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They look like something out of a fairytale, or a Super Mario video game.

The vivid red mushroom – amanita muscaria – is thriving in wet conditions and currently popping up in gardens all across southern Australia in greater numbers than usual.

Delighted to come across such a charming sight, social media users have taken to sharing photos of their finds online.

Amanita muscaria mushrooms. The photo on the left shows some found by Kirsten Joy in Wentworth Falls, NSW.
Amanita muscaria mushrooms. The photo on the left shows some found by Kirsten Joy in Wentworth Falls, NSW. (Facebook: Kirsten Joy, Twitter)

But the pretty mushroom is not as innocent as it looks. 

The fungi belongs to the same genus as the notorious death cap mushroom and is toxic to humans and animals, mycologist Dr Brett Summerell, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, warns.

“They are poisonous, so if people eat them, or god forbid a kid eats them, they can get quite sick from them,” Summerell said.

So toxic are the mushrooms that they were historically used as an insecticide, crushed up and sprinkled over milk to kill off flies, he added.

It’s where the mushroom got its common name – fly agaric.

“Despite the fact that you see them in nursery stories as where the fairies live they can be pretty nasty,” Summerell said.

Autumn was peak mushroom season in southern Australia and this year’s abundant rainfall meant a bumper crop of the fungi, he said.

“They’re coming up bigger, better, more numerous, just because the conditions have been so perfect for them. 

“They tend to come out in larger numbers as the weather cools so I expect we’ll see a lot more.

“I’ve seen some good photos (of amanita muscaria) from around Melbourne and there are quite a lot in Canberra at the moment.”

The amanita muscaria is commonly found along the east coast of Australia, including Tasmania, in South Australia, particularly in the Adelaide Hills and in the south western corner of Western Australia.

Not native to Australia, the fungi is thought to have been brought in on the roots of pine trees from the northern hemisphere, much like a weed, during early settlement.

The mushrooms love to grow on the roots of pine trees, in a kind of symbiotic relationship where the fungi also helped the trees survive, Summerell said.

“You don’t tend to see them in national parks and the like because of the trees that they live on,” he said.

“You’ll see them where there’s pine plantations, in a lot of those older gardens that you might find in the NSW Blue Mountains or Highlands.”

While now was the classic time for foragers to go collecting wild mushrooms, it could be a dangerous pastime, Summerell warned.

Amanita muscaria, found in Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden in Victoria.
Amanita muscaria, found in Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden in Victoria. (Facebook)
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Different types of mushrooms could often look similar and were easily mistaken for each other, he said.

“If you’re looking for oyster mushrooms, and you accidentally pick ghost mushrooms, you can get very sick.

“The best thing to do if you’re really, really, super keen is to go out with an organised group or company that does these sorts of tours and experiences.

“They will go to well defined places where they know what’s growing, and what is safe to eat. 

“Or go with somebody who really, really does know the mushrooms of that particular area. 

“Otherwise, the safest thing to do is to go to the supermarket.”

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