According to a report in The Telegraph, locals from Puxiong Township in China’s Yunnan province have unearthed what may be the largest-ever discovered mushroom. The man who made the discovery proudly put it on display for the locals who gathered for a photo op.
Weighing in at 33 pounds (15 kilograms) and spanning 36 inches (93 cm) in diameter, the massive toadstool was in fact a large clump of more than 100 grayish mushrooms attached at the stem.
While there is no doubt about the fungus’s exceptional proportions – one woman reportedly made mention of its potential to set a world record – its genus and edibility remain a mystery.
With its rich biodiversity, Yunnan has a reputation among mushroom hunters, who refer to it as a “Kingdom of Mushrooms.” The province is home to more than 600 species of edible shrooms out of 2,000 worldwide. Some 20-30 are known as delicacies.
These range from Morels, which sprout during the rainy months – April to May and August to September – to the expensive Tricholoma matsutake mushroom (aka the “King of Mushrooms”), highly prized in Japan as a delicacy. Depending on quality, matsutake mushrooms sell for $27-560 per kilogram in Japan. Matsutake exports from Yunnan to Japan spiked from 20 tons in 1985 to 1420 tons in 2005 for annual sales of $44 million.
Other popular species of fungi found in Yunnan include Dictyophora indusiata (or the “Queen of Fungi”), truffle (found underground; aka “Black Diamond”), Lentinus edodes (or shiitake, as it’s known in Japan), among many others.
While these mushrooms generate significant profits further down the distribution line, mushroom farmers only make an average annual salary of RMB 3,269 ($500), according to China’s Ministry of Commerce, as reported by CNN in 2011.
While edible fungi fans will delight in Yunnan’s treasure trove of specimens, it is important to be alert to impostors in the mushroom kingdom. Until last December, scientists were stumped about the cause behind widespread cases of cardiac arrest, commonly referred to as "Yunnan sudden death syndrome", occurring in the province, especially during the midsummer rainy season (June to August).
After investigating the phenomenon for three decades, the researchers thought they had pinpointed the most likely culprit: Trogia venenata (aka “Little White”). Still, the results of various studies were inconclusive and the investigation continues.
For more on Yunnan’s mushroom varieties, click here.