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'Mr Mushroom' wants to put wild fungi on menu

Updated: 2021-11-02 08:34 ( Xinhua )
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KUNMING - The first person that came to Liu Jianwei's mind when he saw a rare fragrant mushroom during a recent field survey in Yunnan province was his mentor Yang Zhuliang, or "Mr Mushroom".

Liu took a picture of the mushroom and sent it to Yang, who replied instantly, unable to contain his excitement: "This is a rare fragrant ghost pen!"

The "ghost pen" fungus is a stinkhorn (a mushroom found in warm places) with a lilac fragrance, which was first discovered and named by Chinese mycologist Zang Mu in the 1980s. It is extremely rare in the wild.

"In the past, we only saw black-and-white photos and line drawings of the stinkhorn in literature," Yang says.

It's been more than 30 years since it was last spotted.

He instructed his students to separate the strains of the stinkhorn specimens as soon as possible and carry out artificial cultivation experiments.

This discovery is expected to further promote research into the domestic cultivation of some wild edible fungi in China, and provide strains for some rare wild edible fungi for dining tables, according to Yang.

"I want to put them on the tables of consumers someday, so that they will have economic value," Yang says.

Located in southwestern China, Yunnan is known as the "kingdom of wild fungi".

There are more than 2,500 species of wild edible fungi in the world, about 1,000 of which can be found in China, and 900 of those in Yunnan.

Every year, from midsummer to early autumn, wild mushrooms hit the market, providing many people with a must-eat delicacy.

However, due to the extremely complex task of identifying the various species, several people die from eating poisonous mushrooms by mistake every year. More than 90 percent of poison-related deaths in the world are due to eating fungi from the highly toxic Amanita genus.

At present, 12 species of highly toxic Amanita have been identified in China, most of which are researched by Yang's team. In the eyes of the 58-year-old scientist, studying wild edible fungi has both scientific research value and broad market prospects.

For many years, he has been committed to drawing up a "genealogy "of wild fungi. "Only when we know what is safe to eat and what is toxic can we consider industrial development," he says.

In 2015, The Atlas of Amanita Fungi in China was published, with the aim of helping ordinary people identify poisonous mushrooms.

"Remember two things and most of the poisonous mushrooms can be avoided: one is not to eat mushrooms you are not familiar with; the other is to avoid mushrooms with 'a hat on its head', 'skirt around its waist' and 'boots on its foot,'" Yang says.

Every mushroom season, Yang and his colleagues at the Kunming Institute of Botany, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, venture into the countryside daily with local farmers, going out early and returning late.

Due to their efforts, more than 100,000 specimens of fungi have been collected and preserved over the years, and more than 400 new groups of fungi have been named and published.

These studies have not only enriched the diversity and specificity of the known fungal species in Southwest China, but also provided theoretical guidance for the conservation and utilization of local wild fungi.

"Only when it is well-protected can we make full use of it," he says.

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