This mushroom well deserves its name as the imperator of the fungus world.
Amanita caesarea blazes in the forest, six inches tall and imposing. It starts like a tiny scarlet Easter egg: this one has been dined on delicately by a rodent, who has eaten it exactly as I was taught to eat a soft-boiled egg:
It pushes skywards and begins to open out:
And then it reaches its parasol-like final stage:
Its decline is often brutal (“Et tu, Brute?”). Either it is eaten:
Or a secondary fungus, Syzygies megalocarpus*, colonizes it and creates a sort of mad Einsteinium Groucho Marx hairdo:
Although it comes from the Amanita family, many of which are highly poisonous, Caesar’s mushrooms are supposed to be delicious, but I have never plucked up the nerve to eat a mushroom this color (though I’m not sure why it scares me, since I happily eat all sorts of orange food, from carrots to tangerines to lobsters. )
PS Some technical stuff: the skirt-like frill round the stalk is the remnant of the partial veil that used to cover the gills when the mushroom was young. The white cup at the base is called the volva, from which the young mushroom emerges. Sometime it is under the ground and can only be seen by digging down. In most amanitas, pieces of this get stuck to the cap, creating small white patches, but in Caesar’s mushroom that usually doesn’t happen, though in the big photo at the very top of this post there is in fact a piece left.
- Thanks to Parker Veitch for the ID.