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The Caterpillar's Nontoxic Mushroom


What species of mushroom does Alice eat while visiting Wonderland to grow small or to grow large is a difficult-to-answer trivia question. The best answer is probably Amanita fulva, a smooth-capped, nontoxic mushroom common in Britain. Alice, who is 3-inches tall (7.6 cm) when she discovers the mushroom, must stand on tiptoes to view its surface, the correct height of a small A. fulva. In addition, this mushroom species closely resembles the mushroom drawn in black and white by John Tenniel for the 1865 edition of Alice's adventures. Modern acidheads sometimes fantasize that the mushroom depicted in Wonderland is a "magic mushroom" (Amanita muscaria) loaded with hallucinogenic properties. However, common sense dictates that neither the author of the Alice books (a religious-minded Oxford don) or the books' first illustrator would purposely depict a proper Victorian child such as Alice eating a hallucinogenic or a poisonous mushroom. Source: Robert Hornback, "A Garden Tour of Alice in Wonderland," Pacific Horticulture, Fall 1983.

Illustration commentary: Top: Alice meets the mushroom-sitting Caterpillar in Wonderland in colorful artwork by the American artist Maria L. Kirk (b. 1860). Kirk is one of the early artists to illustrate an Alice book, which usually featured the black-and-white illustrations of the original illustrator, John Tenniel. She provided 12 full-color illustrations for a 1904 American edition  of Wonderland, published in New York. Her style of artwork has been described as "reminiscent of stained glass." Bottom: Alice tastes a handful of mushroom. The artwork (with color added by AWT) is by the English illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964). It appears in an American edition of Wonderland published in Philadelphia without a year date, probably 1926 or 1930. Source: AWT's illustrator files.

Ocean mushroom factlet: A scuba-diving site in the Caribbean's British Virgin Islands is named Alice's Wonderland because of a proliferation of mushroom-shaped coral heads, reminiscent of the mushroom used as a seat for the hookah-smoking Caterpillar in Wonderland. Source: AWT's aquatic files.

Beer bottle factlet: To gain entrance into a Wonderland house that is 4-foot tall (1.2 m), Alice nibbles on a size-reducing mushroom, shrinking her height to exactly 9 inches (22.9 cm), the approximate height of a modern 12-ounce (355 ml) long-necked American beer bottle. Source: AWT's beverage files.

Alice Rides the Victorian Railroad

 England's real Victorian railroad is reflected in Alice's train ride in Looking-Glass world.

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An English Illustrator's Wonderland Face

An early 20th-century illustrator of Wonderland often used himself as a model.

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Wonderland Overshadows Maui Wowie

The Alice books provide a treasure-trove of colorful names for female cosmetics.

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Long-Necked Alice as Treetop Scientist

 A title word in the first Alice book describes a research phase in the scientific world of treetop studies.

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The Ubiquitous Non-Wonderland Cocktail

 Literary-minded bartenders and mixologists who create names for cocktails occasionally reply on the Alice books for inspiration.

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The Physical Impairments of Alice's Creators

The author and the first illustrator of the Alice books had lifelong above-the-neck problems.

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The Jabberwocky of Microbiology

A word from a Looking-Glass poem finds a home in microbiology.

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What Alice Doesn't Know About Cooked Sheep

 Like the real-world Victorian girls her age, Alice is familiar with mutton, but she is too young to know about a curious French sexual usage of a sheep's respiratory organs.

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An Illustrated Alice American First

 Using a limited selection of colors, a Southern female illustrator created memorable artwork for an early American edition of the Alice books.

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