Found at Fairchild

Archive - July 2013

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The Destroying Angel—Mushroom Hunting at Fairchild

Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 12:23:32 PM

It had been raining intensely for a couple days straight as of Friday, July 19, which it often does in South Florida during the summer, our wet season. Time to mushroom hunt! I don’t hunt them to eat, but rather to photograph and hopefully identify and research. I first ran across a nice mushroom under the sapodilla tree outside the Glasshouse Café. Then I walked a circuit along the path west past the Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion, past the Edible Garden, until soon the path turns north, with the Sunken Garden passing by on the right (east) of the path.

I look for mushrooms on mulch. Mulch can come from—well I don’t really know from where, which is the point. While it may not make sense economically to ship heavy mulch all over the country, it may certainly derive from non-local wood, meaning it also may carry non-local spores of fungi. Plus it’s dead, and therefore appealing as a food source to saprobic fungi (saprobic = deriving nutrients from dead, decaying organic matter).  So rain + mulch = decaying wood, a feeding frenzy for saprobic fungi.

Back to the path
Though I’m pretty nearsighted, I have gotten attuned to looking for fungi, and most are very small indeed. While sitting in a patch of mulch looking at the fecundity surrounding me I glanced up and out towards an area off the path and towards the border of Fairchild’s property. I gasped when I saw the towering—a rare adjective for a mushroom—examples of mushrooms erupting from the ground near the base of a palm. I certainly didn’t need glasses to see these strapping individuals. I’m not great at identifying, but I am fairly certain these mushrooms are destroying angels, in the genus Amanita (which includes the classic red and white fly agaric). Amanita bisporigera is the species more commonly found in the eastern U.S., so there’s a good chance that’s what we have here. Often mycologists (scientists who study fungi) rely on microscopic analysis of the mushroom’s spores for a specific identification.

Destroying Angels

Two destroying angel mushrooms
(Amanita sp.). The larger about
5 inches tall.

These beautiful, creamy white and (in this case) enormous mushrooms are one of the deadliest known to exist. Consumption results in a delayed gastrointestinal reaction (to be euphemistic), and severe liver and kidney damage, leading to death. Even with medical treatment, chances for survival aren’t great. Survival may depend on receiving a liver transplant, and quickly.

To learn more about the destroying angel, read this post from the fantastic Cornell University Mycology Blog:

For a really frightening tale of destroying angel poisoning and the man who survived it, read:



destroying angel cap
A whole lot of destruction—Destroying angel cap


Meet Our Oldest Resident

Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 02:29:53 PM

Plants and trees can be notoriously long lived (except perhaps the ones you buy at home improvement stores). California’s own Great Basin bristlecone pines are undoubtedly exemplary, with “Methusaleh” (Pinus longaeva) so far at 4,844 years old. There is reportedly an even older bristlecone pine, but its identity and location are kept undisclosed. And these pines aren’t clones of the original (like the 9,550-year-old spruce tree in Sweden or Pando, the ancient quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) colony in Utah), but the actual individual born millennia ago.

Fairchild’s oldest resident isn’t so ancient, but compared to the bristlecone pines and their remote locations out west, it is quite accessible. It grows just west of the palm glade, inside cycad circle. Dioon edule, which Wikipedia calls a “chestnut dioon” is a cycad. Cycads are gymnosperms—they do not produce flowers, and their seeds, often existing on a cone-shaped structure, are not enclosed within a fruit. And not surprisingly, they are related to long-lived pine trees like the bristlecone.

dioon edule
Fairchild's oldest resident: Dioon edule

This fascinating individual, native to arid eastern Mexico, was purchased by one Alexander Mitchell in Edinburgh, Scotland, of all places, in 1867. The then-director of the Edinburgh Botanic Garden confirmed its age for Mitchell at a century at the time. Mitchell kept the Dioon edule in Milwaukee until 1895, when his daughter-in-law gave it to Florida plant pioneer Dr. Henry Nehrling. In 1899 Dr. Nehrling brought it to his home in Gotha, Florida. In 1918 he moved it once again, this time to his garden in Naples, Florida, at which time he noted “it had a weight of about 700 pounds.”

Arno Nehrling, Henry’s son, donated it to Fairchild in 1940, two years after the Garden opened. You can still visit this plant and contemplate all it’s been through since its birth in approximately the middle of the eighteenth century!

Mary Collins, Fairchild Senior Horticulturalist, personal communication.
Nehrling, Henry, My Garden in Florida, American Eagle, 1946.


Welcome to Found at Fairchild

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 at 12:43:35 PM

Welcome to my first blog post here at Fairchild! Like most of you, my real passion and interest always lead back to nature. Even when peering into human history, nature plays the starring role because we are an integral part of the natural world even as we alter it. I once wrote that if I could do whatever I wanted for a living, I’d look for weird and interesting plants and animals, photograph them, and then write about them. I actually get to do that here, in one of the premier botanical gardens in the world.

I firmly believe we are presented with what we need, when we need. That’s why wandering around this Garden (or your own) is like a holiday: you get “gifts” at every turn. Or, you may not. Depends on whether you need them or not.

My hope with this blog is to discover and present Fairchild as a curious citizen, with more than a passing interest in science and nature.

Kenneth Setzer, Writer & Editor at Fairchild

Using Our Plot Maps to Find Plants

I’m calling this blog “Found at Fairchild.” So let’s start with how you actually do find things at Fairchild. While I believe serendipitous discoveries are usually the best, you can certainly guide the adventure a bit. Say you read about the cannonball tree and want to find one at Fairchild. If you have the scientific binomial name for it, in this case Couroupita guianensis, it makes finding it accurately easier, but if you don’t, that’s OK too.

First, visit our homepage at (or look to the top left of this page). Click the tab on the left that says “The Garden.” A list will then drop down from under the heading you clicked. The first category under “The Garden” will be “List of Living Plants at Fairchild.” Click on it. This is your first key to successful exploration.

Now you’re presented with three categories:

Click here to view Fairchild's List of Living Plants

Click here to view Fairchild's List of Living Plants by Common Name

Click on link to view large map and click on the map to enlarge further.

Opening the first shows you a .pdf list of all of our living plants, which you can easily search. Just type the “Control” key (Ctrl key on your keyboard) or the “Command” key on a Mac, and simultaneously type “f” for “find.” Typing Ctrl+f will open a small search box in the upper right of the screen, in which you can type the name of any plant you are searching for, press "enter" and if it’s at Fairchild, the name will be highlighted.


Searching a pdf

Type Control + F to search a .pdf
(click to enlarge).

After typing in Couroupita guianensis in the pdf search box and hitting "enter," the search results will appear (see image below). In the column at right you can see we have three specimens of Couroupita guianensis, the cannonball tree. They live in Plot 137, Plot 152 and Plot 45. If you don’t know the plant’s scientific name, click the second of the three options above to search by common name.


Cannonball tree location
Entry for the Couroupita guianensis, the cannonball tree, with locations on right

Now what? Now click the third link above. This opens a Plot map. It’s simply a map of Fairchild with numbered planting locations, called Plots. Now you can find Plot 137, 152, or 45 and there will be a cannonball tree there! If your quarry still evades you, just ask any of our staff and volunteers for guidance. It takes a little getting used to the Plot map; study it prior to your visit, and you’ll get a lot more out of your time in the Garden.

Plot Map
A Fairchild Plot Map with Cannonball Tree Locations
in Red (Click to enlarge).


Found at Fairchild Blog
Found at Fairchild Blog
Explore the Garden with Fairchild blogger Ken Setzer. More