Think of how frantic you would be if you discovered your child had swallowed part of a mushroom they found at the playground. Or what if you caught your cat eating a new houseplant, or your dog ran through a bed of something in the woods and was pawing its eyes?
One resource that might be of use, especially for the remainder of spring and for summer, is a Facebook group called “Poisons Help; Emergency Identification For Mushrooms & Plants.” The group is open to the public and has 129,000 members.
“This group is for EMERGENCY HELP only,” their page says. “It is for situations where someone has consumed an unknown fungi, or touched or consumed an unknown plant.”
The admins of the group say that with fungi “emergency” means “actual ingestion (not chewing or touching),” and with plants “ingestion OR exposure like contact with skin, eyes, mouth.”
Users who ask for help must provide: “Unabbreviated geographical location [there was once confusion over “Georgia”]; species of the patient [dog, cat, human]; time since ingestion or contact”; and “clear, focused photographs of the suspected toxin with something indicating scale.”
Only admins may comment until a case is closed, and only admins may offer identifications, which usually come “within a few minutes.” They ask that “ALL other situations should use the non-emergency ID groups listed,” and that people not use the group simply to identify plants, since there are bigger non-emergency identification groups on Facebook. They also list resources including books and other Facebook pages on plants, fungi, and foraging, such as “Know Your Carrots” and “False Morels Demystified.”
One of the administrators of the group told me by Messenger that “Admins are chosen based on their demonstration of sound, consistent, and exceptional identification skills. Many are self-taught and considered experts. Many hold MS and PhD degrees in biology, botany, mycology, plant taxonomy, natural history, ecology, etc. But the common denominator is everyone has demonstrable identification skills.”
Only two percent of fungi are highly poisonous, but over the last 20 years, some “704 (39/year) exposures [in the US] have resulted in major harm. Fifty-two (2.9/year) fatalities have been reported…. Misidentification of edible mushroom species appears to be the most common cause and may be preventable through education.”
Illness from plants is often not reported as well, but the National Library of Medicine says that in one recent year “there were 46,597 human plant exposures reported to United States poison control centers…which represented 1.8% of all exposure calls. This made plants the 21st most common substance category involved in human exposures…” About 60% of those “involved pediatric patients under the age of 6 years.”