It's not every day that a fungus lost for a century and a half is rediscovered. However, it does seem fitting that it should happen in Yunnan. A new report, first published in the botanical journal Phytotaxa, reveals the long-lost mushroom species Pleurotus placentodes — once a bit of a biological mystery — has been found again in the province's northwest mountains.
Researchers at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, identified specimens of the mushroom in July. The samples were collected in the remote Hengduan Mountains (横断山脉) in forests growing at elevations between 3,000 and 4,200 meters above sea level. Doctor Yang Zhuliang led a team to analyze and identify the long-lost species.
Pleurotus placentodes was first collected and identified 164 years ago in 1852 by a mycologist working hundreds of kilometers away from China. During the mid-nineteenth century, English botanist Miles Joseph Berkeley tromped through the mountains of Sikkim State in northeast India collecting every fungus, lichen and moss he could find. Berkeley was the first and only scientist to ever gather P placentodes.
His specimen has slowly degraded and, according to Yang, "is now in very poor condition". The newly discovered specimens will now allow researchers at the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) to more fully examine the species' genetic make-up and possible economic applications.
The mushroom belongs to the genus Pleurotus, a group of dozens of gilled fungi endemic to tropical and temperate areas throughout the world. Collectively, they are some of the most easily and widely cultivated mushrooms in the world. The addition of P placentodes — if it is found to be commercially viable — could further boost Yunnan's already booming mushroom industry.
The province is home to over 850 different species of edible fungus — meaning more than 40 percent of the world's consumable varieties can be found in Yunnan. And, as the KIB rediscovery bears out, dozens of new mushroom species are found South of the Clouds each year. Most of them, however, do not have a mysterious past 150 years in the making.