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Pine Mushroom or North American Matsutake, Tricholoma magnivelare
Unquestionably the most economically valuable and most sought after mushroom in Oregon (and elsewhere) is the North American Matsukate, Tricholoma magnivelare. Much of its monetary value is due to the popularity of a similar, longer stemmed, and browner colored species native to Asia, and long revered in Japan—where its pine forest habitats have become more scarce. While our Matsutake decays very slowly, and stands shipping well, its great economic value is also owed to the fact that they taste very good, and most people find them difficult to locate in any great quantity, except sometimes in a very few exceptional years.
Matsutake, in Japanese means “Pine Mushroom”. Our Matsutake, or Pine Mushroom, is a very robust, firm, fleshy mushroom, that starts out white, but develops some scattered brown or rusty stains as it matures. In particular it features a fairly prominent ring or partial veil around the stalk, which initially covers the young gills. This veil can also form a thin sheath at the bottom of the stem, that very superficially can at least resemble a tightly adhering cup like volva. This latter characteristic the species technically lacks, but some specimens showing it can vaguely resemble a large-bodied, white, poisonous Amanita—for which they’ve occasionally been mistaken.
Like an Amanita, and many other mushroom species, the gills and spores of Matsutakes are white. But, more like a harmless and tasteless Short-stemmed Russula (Russula brevipes) that it is probably most often mistaken for, the gills are somewhat crowded and clearly attached to the stem.
Most remarkably, and distinguishing, is the highly fragrant odor that has been described as a combination “cinnamon and pine smell”, but most notably by David Arora in Mushrooms Demystified characterized as a cross between “red hots and dirty socks.” I find this odor to be very pleasing—and the final confirmation of a correct identification.
In Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, Matsutakes grow primarily under conifers, but in Oregon particularly under two-needle pine, such as the shore pine that grows on the Oregon Coast, and the lodgepole pine in eastern Oregon—both varieties or subspecies of Pinus contorta.
Additionally, our native, white Matsutake grows associated with tanoak—a species with which it is also mycorrhizal, and found in southwestern Oregon, and northwestern California.
While prime pine mushrooms still fetch up to $30 a pound on the commercial market, prior to economic downturns in Asia (and now world-wide) in the 1990s this mushroom was generating prices paid to collectors of up to $100 or more a pound. With its high commercial value has come Forest Service imposed regulations now requiring permits for mushroom picking in general--even for people who only wish to collect a few mushrooms for their personal (and non-commercial) use. These rules and permit requirements and enforcement, seem to still be in a state of flux, and thus very inconsistently, still vary not just from National Forest to National Forest, but last I widely checked in 2010, even from individual Ranger District to Ranger District in northern California. Therefore, consult the local regulations, and perhaps you’ll want to complain to and write your Congressman, if you find you must now pay a fee to be able to legally pick this (or other mushrooms) on your public lands simply for recreation and your own very minimal, personal consumption.
While commercial picking should be regulated, unfortunately the greatest downside of Matsutakes is that on many National Forests (also in Region 6) mushroom permits are now required to collect any species of mushroom where they were never required before. To distinguish recreational, Saturday afternoon pickers from the long-haul, professional commercial pickers, the best suggestion I thought, was to require people who do not purchase commercial permits to simply cut the mushroom in half. This renders the mushroom commercially valueless to commercial mushroom buyers, and thus would not require the casual collector to have to purchase a permit that truly does not intend to sell their mushrooms.
(The discussion here summarizes, but does not provide a fully detailed description of all the characteristics of this mushroom. Thus, please consult a mushroom book for a more thorough description if you are collecting mushrooms for the table.)