The wonderful world of mushrooms
Let’s start by understanding what a mushroom is. They are neither a plant nor an animal but somewhere in between, they are part of the fungal kingdom. A mushroom is the reproductive structure of a fungus, or simply: The fruit of a fungus. Fungi play an extremely important role in our ecosystem. Most fungi exclusively break down organic matter, these are classified as saprophytes. If it weren’t for saprophytes, the earth’s surface would be buried under old dead leaves, trees and animal matter. Plants rely on these fungi to seek out and digest nutrients for them, which in turn feed soil organisms with sugars. Most commercially farmed mushrooms are saprophytic in nature.
The good, bad and fascinating mushrooms of Mpumalanga
The lush natural habitats of the Mpumalanga province support a massive variety of unique species, many of which have not yet been documented in science literature.
On my adventures in the wild, I have come across some fascinating and extraordinarily beautiful mushroom species in many shapes and form. Some of these mushrooms are choice edible, gravely toxic, glow in the dark (Bioluminescence fungi), foul smelling (Stink horns), zombie mushrooms (Cordyceps), mind altering (Magic mushrooms), fairy tale like mushrooms (Amanita muscaria) and mushrooms that are cultivated by termites (Termitomyces species).
Before we delve deeper into the good, bad and fascinating mushrooms, A word of advice. There are NO short cuts, rules of thumb or hacks to tell whether a mushroom is edible or toxic. The ONLY sure-fire way to tell the edibility of a mushroom is to become familiar with edible and toxic mushrooms and know how to tell them apart. When in doubt, through it out OR study the specimens further. It is said that, “There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters, but no old, bold mushroom hunters.” Mushroom field guides are helpful to certain extend. Luckily in this day and age we can turn to social media to assist with the further identification of an unknown specimen. Join mushroom identification pages on Facebook, you are likely to find both local and international pages dedicated to the identification of mushrooms.
You are most likely to stumble upon some fungal treasures during summer months just after bouts of rainfall.
Some mushrooms to look out for this season:
Choice edible species occurring in the area are:
*Porcini (Boletus edulis)
*Bronze Bolete’s (Boletus aureus)
*I’kowe (Termitomyces umkowaani)
Highly toxic species: Get familiar with these guys! Luckily the number of edible and non-palatable species far exceeds the toxic mushrooms. I have been foraging for wild mushrooms in Mpumalanga for the past three years and have only encountered five potentially deadly toxic species. One would have to ingest a substantial amount for these toxins to take effect. No harm will come from picking these elusive deadly ones with bare hands and the brave amongst us even taste and spit these deadly critters to convince and prove that the irrational fear of mushrooms is out dated.
Deadly toxic species in Mpumalanga:
*Amanita phalloides (Death Cap) and it’s albino version (var Alba)