Mushrooms’ enthusiasts around the world usually are waiting the proper weather conditions before starting their search for wild mushrooms in woodlands and grasseslands. But, what would you say if someone told you that some people are looking for mushrooms and truffles in the desert?
Desert areas in Arizona, USA, in Asia, in Africa and in Australia are the proper environment for some species of fungi and truffles that have been used as food and medicine from ancient times.
Podaxis pistillaris, known as the Desert Shaggy Mane. It thrives in deserts and semi-deserts of Australia and other countries. In the Hawaiian Islands, it is frequently encountered along roadsides and in disturbed areas on the dry sides of the islands, especially in the Kona area of Hawaii and the Kihei area of Maui. In Australia, it was used by many desert tribes to darken the white hair in old men’s whiskers and for body painting. The fungus was presumably used by many desert Aborigines due to its distribution around drier areas of Australia.
Astraeus hygrometricus, commonly known as the hygroscopic earthstar. These mushrooms are commonly found in the Upland Sonoran Desert and into chaparral habitat. The tough outer cortex that forms the star is tough enough to persist for some years. North American sources describe A. hygrometricus as being of either unknown edibility or too tough to be edible. However, they are regularly consumed in Asia, including Nepal and South Bengal, where “local people consume them as delicious food”. They are collected from the wild and sold in the markets of India.
Along the North African coast from Morocco to Egypt and farther east across the great desert plain from Damascus in Syria to Basra in Iraq, people are searching for desert truffles. Desert truffles appear from late January to early of March. In general, two genera are observed, viz., Terfezia sp. and Tirmania sp. Locally, Terfezia sp. called in Arabic “ahraq” or “jaba,” whereas Tirmania sp. called “zubaidi” or “sheikh” or “shiuokh.” These truffles live in mycorrhizal association with Helianthemum sp. or without any mycorrhizal association.
Terfezia (Berber: Tirfas) is a genus of truffle-like fungi within the Pezizaceae family. Terfezia species are commonly known as desert truffles. A recent publication used molecular analysis to show that the American Terfezia species had been incorrectly classified, and moved Terfezia spinosa and Terfezia longii to Mattirolomyces and Stouffera, respectively, as a result, no Terfezia species are known to exist in North America.