Hunting for precious matsutake in the Shangri-La forest

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Publish Time: 2019-08-17 Author: From: CGTN

Yangzom Drolma searches for matsutake mushrooms in the pine forest. (Photo/CCGTN)

Yangzom Drolma searches for matsutake mushrooms in the pine forest. (Photo/CGTN)

Tibetan forager Yangzom Drolma gets up early in the morning to hunt for one of the most precious mushrooms in the world, the matsutake mushroom, also known as the pin mushroom. The Shangri-La forest in southwest China's Yunnan Province is home to the best matsutake mushroom.

Popular but rare, matsutake mushrooms only grow in old forests where there is plenty of clean air and minimal pollution. Drolma goes to the mountain at 5 a.m. to get a head start on her competitors. The mushroom fetches a good price at the market, and if she gets there first, she gets the best pick of the lot.

Matsutake mushrooms grow on forest floor and are often concealed under fallen leaves and branches, so a keen eye is needed to find the fragrant delicacy. Only trees over 50 years old can form a symbiotic relationship with the matsutake.

The mushroom has to get enough rain and sunshine before it forms its fruit body and pushes out of the soil. Temperature fluctuations, bug infestations or an improper harvest can damage its hyphae.

Yangzom Drolma unearths a matsutake mushroom from the forest floor. (Photo/CCGTN)

Yangzom Drolma unearths a matsutake mushroom from the forest floor. (Photo/CGTN)

By afternoon, Drolma has collected a large bamboo basket of matsutake. Her son, Lozang Choden, immediately packages them to sell at the market.

Mushroom purchased from a forager sells at about 15 U.S. dollars per kilogram. But the price increases as the mushrooms change hands. Exported mushrooms can sell for as much as 1,000 U.S. dollars per kilogram.

Lozang Choden packs fresh matsutake for sale. (Photo/CCGTN)

Lozang Choden packs fresh matsutake for sale. (Photo/CGTN)

It takes five to six years for one matsutake mushroom to grow. Over-foraging due to consumer demand has had a significant impact on the mushroom population in the region. Climate change has also affected the prevalence of the delicious food.

The local government has created special principles and markets to regulate the sale of the mushroom.

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