Mushroom hunting in Zimbabwe.
"Mushroom" describes a myriad number of gilledfungi, with or without stems, which play an extremely important role in most ecosystems on earth. In this series, Zimbabwean expert Cathy Sharp introduces us to fascinating southern African varieties.
The word 'hunting' conjures up pictures of rifles, bows, spears and tracking great African animals with stealth and skill. None of this applies to hunting mushrooms! In the rainy reason one can trip over mushrooms if they're big enough or trample them underfoot without even realising it. They won't run away and will live their life, be it half an hour long or several months, in their varied habitats waiting to be noticed and appreciated. Mushrooms are part of the huge kingdom of Fungi which includes species that brew your beer and wine, make your bread and cheeses, are essential in making chocolate, tea and coffee and are the basis of many important medicinal drugs (e.g. penicillin).
The typical 'mushroom' as we know it, is a fruiting body that grows from a mycelial mat that is hidden for most of its life within a substrate of soil, leaf litter or dead wood. When climatic and environmental conditions are suitable, fruiting bodies appear in all shapes, sizes and colours. To enjoy the magic of these fungi one should go hunting in miombo woodland in particular where Msasa, Mnondo and Mfuti trees have a special relationship with hundreds of mushrooms. Hunting in mopane woodland or thorn veld will give you different species as will microhabitats in your own back garden. Some of Zimbabwe's 'trophies' are shown here to whet your appetite, not for eating, but for experiencing some treasures of our country's amazing biodiversity. This is the most well-known mushroom in Zimbabwe and can be seen on sale along the roadsides during December and January. The cap measures 20cm across although in a good wet season sizes of 30cm have been collected. As the pictures show, the mushroom breaks out of a sac to eventually produce a flat cap with a smooth, brown, sticky surface. Pure white forms are also common. There are white gills underneath from which the spores (equivalent of seeds in plants) are produced and a large skirt-like ring hangs from the top of the stem. Many creatures apart from man, are partial to this mushroom; flies, slugs, snails, beetles, millipedes, tortoises, duiker, monkeys and baboons. So it's often a case of 'an early hunter gets his mushroom'!
Although this mushroom is edible, there are reports of fatal cases of mis-identification. Always consult the village ambuya or gogo or a reliable book. To reduce confusion further, only fresh, young specimens that are still opening and brown-centred should be eaten. IF IN DOUBT-DON'T! This applies to any wild mushrooms of course and remember the Czech quote: "All mushrooms are edible, some of them only once!"
The identification of wild mushrooms is a potentially hazardous activity. Even local African peoples, whose knowledge of the bush is highly attuned, occasionally make mistakes which can lead to sickness or death. Consequently, neither the author nor the publishers are responsible for the abuse of this data or the consequences thereof