Matsutake Mushrooms

Matsutake Mushrooms have been collected for many years, but have just recently become a popular source of extra income for numerous people. This page provides tips that will help in picking and in assuring a future crop.

Biology

Photo of Matsutake Mushrooms

Matsutake mushrooms are simple plants known as fungi. Unlike green plants, fungi cannot use sunlight to make food, but fungi use other living organisms or dead organic matter for food. Fungi have many important roles in the forest. They help break down and return dead plant material to the soil for use by other plants. They are a food source for many animals including insects, squirrels, and deer. They can help plants and trees resist disease.

The fleshy portion or "mushroom" of the Matsutake is really the fruiting portion of the fungus. A mushroom is similar in function to an apple or other fruit in that it carries the reproductive structure. Instead of seeds, millions of tiny spores are produced along the gills of the mushroom. These spores are spread by wind when the cap of the mushroom is open. Like a seed, spores will germinate and grow when conditions are right.

Fruiting or mushroom production requires specific conditions. A lack or rain, for example, can result in a season where few mushrooms are produced. According to studies in Japan, the thickness of the duff layer and the density of the trees also influence Matsutake production.

Matsutakes receive their nutrition through the living roots of nearby trees in a special relationship where both trees and fungi benefit. This is called a mycorrhizal relationship. The main portion of Matsutake's are below ground and consist of interwoven rootlike threads called mycelium. The mycelium fibers surround and penetrate tree roots, hence the mycorrhizal relationship.

These "extra roots" enable the tree to obtain more nutrients and water; and helps protect the tree from disease-causing organisms. The fungus, in turn, obtains vital food products it cannot manufacture itself. Neither the trees or the Matsutake can survive without each other. Maintaining an abundance of mycorrhizal fungi is critical to overall forest health.

Research

Photo of Matsutake Mushrooms

The Deschutes, Umpqua, Willamette, and Fremont-Winema National Forests are cooperating with scientists to study these issues. The long-term effects of picking will be compared with mushroom production. Timber harvest methods on mushroom production will also be evaluated.

Location and Season

The Matsutake season usually starts the first part of September. The first mushrooms come up in the higher elevation forests of fir, hemlock, and ponderosa pine. Later the Matsutake can be found in almost all forest areas including pure lodgepole pine above 4500 feet elevation. Check with mushroom buyers to locate potential picking areas.

Buying & SellingPhoto of harvested Matsutake Mushrooms.

Most Matsutake mushrooms are shipped directly to Japan where they are used for food and flavorings in soups, etc. Matsutakes are sold based on five separate grades. The mushrooms are graded by age and any damage.

Buyers can be found on main roads and are highly visible. Buyers will help with identification, cleaning, care, and grade. Prices will vary greatly by the grade. The prices also vary daily depending on the mushroom market.

Permits

Permits are required for harvesting mushrooms on national forest land. You should check with the local ranger district for their specific conditions. Buyers are not allowed to operate in some national forest areas. Other areas allow buyers by permit only. Check first before picking or buying. Mushroom harvesting is prohibited in areas such as National Parks and National Forest Wilderness.

Picking Requirements

Improper picking techniques can destroy Matsutake mushroom habitat. Three simple steps will ensure future crops of Matsutake.

  1. Locate Matsutake's by watching for small bumps in the duff or litter layer. Carefully clearing the duff off the mushroom to get a good idea where the base is may be necessary. Searching by raking the duff ruins the mushroom and destroys the mycelium, don't do it! Damaged mushroom stems or caps have little or no value.
  2. Extract the mushroom by inserting a narrow object like a stick or knife under the base prying up and out of the ground. Damage can be minimized by prying straight up. Remove any dirt now with the mushroom upright to keep the gills clean. Using a narrow tool will reduce damage to the mycelium ensuring a future crop, maybe as soon as three or four days later.
  3. Replace any dirt and duff, patting firmly in place, since this helps protect the mycelium. Without mycelium mushrooms will not grow.

Remember, raking the duff or litter layer can ruin mushrooms and destroy future crop potential.