Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for September 2000

This month's fungus is Tricholoma magnivelare, the American matsutake mushroom

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Tricholoma magnivelare, the American matsutake mushroom This month's fungus and its relatives are among the most sought after and prized mushrooms in the world, especially in Japan and Korea. It is a delicious edible mushroom, unlike any other you can find and eat. However, its attraction is not the flavor per se, but the amazing aroma that is emitted by the mushroom. The aroma is nearly impossible to describe; most people describe as somewhat fruity, but spicy, but also stinky. It's a very complex odor that people in the know describe as smelling like...well,... a matsutake. The unopened buttons may sell for as much as US$100 in Japan and Korea. Wholesale/retail prices range from US$100-$600 per pound or US $220- $ 1000 per kilogram, depending on the abundance of the mushroom in any particular year. I have eaten this mushroom and it is indeed delicious. Unlike cooking other mushrooms, I was told to broil it for a few minutes on each side, adding a bit of rice wine and/or soy sauce either before or after broiling. It's an incredible and complex flavor you won't ever forget-- even though you won't be able to adequately describe it to anyone. I have seen Korean and Japanese people react to seeing and smelling this fungus-- it's almost a quasi-religious experience for them.

matsutake button You may have learned this mushroom as Armillaria ponderosa, but it is certainly not an Armillaria. The genus Armillaria was once a taxonomic refugium for almost any white spored mushroom with attached gills and an annulus. Now typified by Armillaria mellea, the genus Armillaria is now restricted to white spored wood-decay species with attached gills and black rhizomorphs, regardless of whether there is a ring on the stalk. Any mushroom with deviating characters does not belong in Armillaria. The 263 or so species once placed in Armillaria are now better placed in 43 other modern genera. For a list of the 30 or so species currently accepted in Armillaria click here. The modern genera of mushrooms are meant to reflect a set of characteristics about the species in that genus. One important character that makes Armillaria ponderosa an incorrect name is that the fungus is mycorrhizal, not a wood-decay fungus, as Armillaria is defined. As you will recall, mycorrhizal fungi form a mutualistically beneficial relationship with the roots of photosynthetic plants. This particular species is near impossible to grow int he laboratory without trees and has not to my knowledge been successfully fruited in culture.

We now know this mushroom belongs in the genus Tricholoma (at least for now), since it has notched (adnexed) gills, white spores, and is mycorrhizal. So why not call this Tricholoma ponderosum, retaining the epithet? As Scott Redhead explained (Transactions of the Mycological Society of Japan 25:6, 1984), magnivelare is the oldest legitimate epithet for this mushroom, so the correct name is Tricholoma magnivelare (Peck) Redhead. The oriental matsutake is known as Tricholoma matsutake (S.Ito & S.Imai) Singer, although the Norwegians and Swedes claim Tricholoma nauseosum (A. Blytt) Kytovuori is an older name for the same taxon. If so, my vote would be to conserve the name Tricholoma matsutake for this economically important species. Both species are apparently very similar in their gastronomic value.

There a number of other similar-looking species, including Tricholoma caligatum, which is sometimes edible and good, but sometimes very bitter and foul tasting. There are a number of other species that are very close to T. magnivelare, but they are very difficult to distinguish. The species delimitations in this section of Tricholoma are not very clear. Lots more work needs to be done on this complex of species. Catathelasma ventricosa is also similar, but has a double veil and amyloid spores. It is considered a mediocre edible.

basket of matsutakeThe American matsutake is most famous from the American Northwest, where it is found in abundance and commercially harvested. It is most commonly found growing in association with lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in Oregon Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. However, what few people realize is that Charles Peck described the mushroom from specimens he found in upstate New York! The mushroom can be found in association with jack pine (Pinus banksiana) in New York and throughout its range. For example, there is a vibrant and productive commercial harvest of matsutake in Québec. You might be surprised to learn that all of the pictures on this page are matsutake from northern Michigan! We found these growing under jack pine in very thick moss, just poking their caps above the surface of the moss. They're not easy to find. Commercial harvesters sometimes use rakes to remove the moss and expose the mushrooms, but this quickly ruins the area for further matsutake production and disrupts the ecological stability of the area. It is ecologically unethical in my opinion to harvest matsutake in this manner. matsutake poking through the duff
For further information I recommend searching for "matsutake" in a reliable search engine (I recommend where you'll get lots of sites for this popular mushroom. There are too many sites for me to list here.)
I hope you enjoyed this month's fungus. If you get the chance to collect and eat it, I would highly recommend this experience. I'm not sure I'd pay $100 for one mushroom though. Remember that there's no accounting for cultural tastes, especially for special occasions.

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This page and other pages are © Copyright 2000 by Thomas J. Volk, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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