WATCH: Crews in Oak Bay have removed more than 1,000 death cap mushrooms as the deadly fungi become more prevalent, posing a danger to people and pets. Tess van Straaten reports.
Oak Bay Parks staff are hard at work, on the hunt for the world’s deadliest mushroom: the death cap.
It’s responsible for 90 per cent of mushroom fatalities worldwide and it’s on the rise in urban areas of Greater Victoria such as Oak Bay.
“They have this very rounded top and they’re this greenish colour or a greenish gold colour,” explains Oak Bay Parks arborist Chris Paul. “They’ve got this large, swollen base which not all mushrooms have.”
B.C.’s first reported death due to the death cap was a year ago today when a three-year-old Victoria boy died after foraging with his family downtown.
Eating just one of the rather normal-looking mushrooms can kill an adult and Oak Bay is seeing more than ever before.
“In this area here, we’ve removed close to 1,000 this year,” Paul says. “This is the first year we’ve really gone harvesting for them, trying to keep them in check. We’ll go about a two week period before we come back and we’ve found as many 35 or 40 around some trees.”
Mushroom season usually starts in the fall, when it’s damp. But this year, despite a long, dry summer, death caps started popping up in July because so many boulevards and lawns in the Uplands are irrigated and shaded by established trees.
Death caps grow under non-native trees like Linden, English Oak and Beech. But as they become more prevalent, arborists say they’re adapting to native species like Garry Oaks.
“We’ve found a few near some Garry Oaks, there are a few other ornamental trees that also produce these mushrooms and a few in South Oak Bay,” Paul explains.
Residents say a four-month-old puppy had to be rushed to the vet this month after coming in contact with a death cap at Windsor Park in South Oak Bay.
But despite the growing problem, most people would be hard-pressed to identify them.
“I’m totally surprised at how they look,” Oak Bay resident Caroline Rogers says. “I thought they were red with white spots but no, they look like normal brown mushrooms you get at the supermarket.”
And that’s exactly why experts say you should never eat wild mushrooms.
“Mushrooms are very dangerous in that there are some that are very poisonous that look like edibles,” Paul says. “And they also look different at different stages so you might see it at one stage and think it’s okay when at another stage you would be able to tell it’s poisonous.”
Often, digging up the mushroom to see the distinctive death cap bulb underground is the only way to be sure and if you find death caps in your yard, where they can pose a serious danger to kids and pets, experts say you should dig them up and throw them away.