Like many other forest areas, the Palatinate Forest is an El Dorado for mushroom pickers – actually. Because, at the moment collectors find considerably less mushrooms than usual. The reason is the long-lasting dryness, especially since also in the previous year there was not enough rain fall and the forest ground for the mushrooms is not wet moistened.
According to mushroom experts, there are usually several hundred types of mushrooms in the Palatinate Forest at this time of the year. Right now, however, it is much less. “You can be lucky if you see any”. Especially the popular porcini mushrooms and chanterelles are currently rare.
On October 3rd, I wanted to proof it by myself and accompanied some experienced mushroom pickers into the local forest. Right from the beginning there was sniffling and snipping with special mushroom knives and of course determination on the basis of reference books on the spot. And – we found quite some mushrooms, probably more than 20 different species such as “perl mushrooms”, “parasols”, “pipe-rings”, “russulas” and “tree-mushrooms”. In addition to them finally tree chanterelles and three ceps made its way into the basket. Toxic mushrooms like the fly agaric and tuber pluck we left off, because of contact poison transfer they should not be stored / transported next to the edible mushrooms. The haptic of the mushrooms is completely different, some feel rather slippery, others firm or spongy. Some also provide a magnificent colour-play through chemical reaction. If one cuts, e.g. the “witch’s tube”, its yellowish “pulp” turns into dark blue within seconds; when frying the original color turns back. Harvesting can be done either by knife cutting or by manual unscrewing.
According to my experienced colleagues, you should definitely know the following things about mushrooms:
Almost all mushrooms are raw inedible or poisonous. By cooking or steaming, the substances decompose and make the mushrooms edible (except, of course, the toadstools). Exceptions are the species known as “salad mushrooms”, for example cultivated mushrooms.
Some, such as the “wrinkle-tintling”, are only edible in young age, but it is poisonous in combination with alcohol (facial redness, accelerated pulse, palpitations, hot flashes and attacks of weakness).
Mushroom inedibility is most common not caused by poisonous fungi but with fungi that are too old or wrong storrage. Therefore, anyone that deforms easily with the help of a thumb-press, lets the mushroom head hang diagonally, is nibbled on the edges or has an injured skin, should rather be thrown away. If in doubt, always have the collection checked by a licensed mushroom expert. Addresses and contact details are available in the Internet or via local forestry offices.
Mushrooms contain indigestible chitin and are therefore often hard to digest for the stomach. But 100 grams of fresh porcini mushrooms contain only 34 kilocalories, the so-called chanterelles even only 23.
Almost all mushrooms enter into a symbiosis with the trees in their vicinity, including the white and black truffles (as far as I know almost exclusively with oak trees).
Mushrooms can contain many heavy metals. In order to keep the lead content low, it is better not to collect mushrooms on the roadside.
Collectors who collect more than the permitted amount of mushrooms (2 kilos per person per day) and do not respect the protected seasons or use unauthorized aids, have to reckon disciplinary punishments and sometimes high fines.
Basically, mushrooms are not only the recycling specialists of our forests, but also ubiquitous nutrient suppliers.
No creatures have been rated as differently in history as the potentially immortal mushrooms. According to the biologists, fungi are not to be assigned to the plants, but rather to the living beings or meantime regarded as an own species. More on that later.
Mushrooms do not have photosynthetic pigments but derive their nutrition from dead or living organisms. Thanks to their tiny, easily disseminated and often sporadically formed spores, fungi are omnipresent and rarely seen. Many can only be detected in a microscope, almost all of them grow hidden as a finely branched mesh in the respective substrate. It is most likely to perceive those species that produce fruiting bodies. The fruiting bodies are short-lived, spore-forming structures that we commonly refer to as fungus. The truffles, porcini mushrooms or morels, which are known as culinary delights, are thus only the stages of multiplication of the species, similar to the apples of the apple tree.
Even 30 years after Chernobyl, fungi are still exposed to radioactivity (mostly tube mushrooms such as porcini or birch sprouts). How much depends on fungal species and location. Fungi in eastern and southern Germany are the most heavily polluted. The least polluted are mushrooms that grow on wood, such as the yellow chanterelle. As long as you consume the mushrooms in small amounts, there is no need to panic.
Together with the bacteria, fungi are the decomposers in the material cycle of our ecosystems. For example, they degrade wood, dried leaves, fruits, but also horns and fats, and return them to the soil via nitrogen compounds and other substances.
Another key role of fungi is their function as symbiosis partners. Most of our trees live in symbiosis with such fungi, which means the Mycorrhizal fungi encase the fine roots of the tree, collect nutrients and, together with water, supply them to the plants. In return, the fungus receives the substances required for its life, especially sugar, proteins and vitamins.
So far, about 100,000 types of fungi have been determined. Nevertheless it is assumed that up to five million species exist worldwide. Thus, fungi are the species-rich group of organisms after the insects. It is estimated that around one billion mycelia or spores occur in the topsoil of natural forests per square meter.
The way we treat our forests also means a threat to the fungi. Already in the early 1970s, fungal decay was mentioned because many of them are very sensitive to environmental pollution and thus are reliable indicators of contamination. In consequence, only a careful nature management and possibly the setting up of large-scale protected areas may be of help.
A natural wonder and record specimen among the many types of mushrooms is the so-called Hallimasch. It was only in 2014 when in the Malheur National Forest, Oregon, an incredible specimen of almost nine square kilometers (equivalent to 1,200 football fields) was detected with an estimated weight of 600 tons. This exemplar is considered to be the largest “mushroom creatue” on earth.
The reason for his long concealment is that it grows mainly one meter underground. Its black-brown, only a few millimeters thick threads drilled through the soil (thereby damaging the trees) and form a coherent network, which is referred to as mycelium. Above ground, only some mushrooms with yellow-brown hats are visible that grow on stems and stumps.
What is so big takes time to grow. The age of this “hallimasch” is estimated to be 2,400 years.
Incidentally, mushroom scientists suspect that its spread was curiously favored by a climate that was too dry. Obviously nature is making its way; if it has to be, by using all kind of the tricks.