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Matsutake Booklet Contents


(Tricoloma magnivelare)




Mushrooms are the fruit of a living organism called mycelium. Mycelium is a fungus which attaches to a trees roots. Tree and fungus form a partnership, beneficial to both, known as a symbiotic relationship. The mycelium provides the tree with water and nutrients. Trees provide food for the mycelium. 
Harvesting mushrooms is much like picking an apple. The fruit is removed but the organism remains to fruit again.
Environmental conditions which determine why the mycelium is present are unknown. Preliminary investigations indicate soil decomposition as a part of ecosystem function. The mycelium moves through the soil changing soil composition and unlocking nutrients. Progression through soils varies greatly depending on a variety of conditions: Host age, soil type, moisture, litter depth, competing mycelium, and canopy closure are a few. Movement may be noted by observing fruit positioning. Fruit production occurs in the active area, or leading edge, of the mycelium. Fruit has been noted to remained stationary or advanced 1 to 5 centimeters per year. Some advancement is noted in most cases.


Hunting is the on site observations that lead to mushrooms. In most years fruiting is confined to  micro environments, small areas with good production conditions, that year. Knowing the habits of fruiting conserves time, energy, and makes a successful hunter.


This term refers to types of trees, litter layer, ground cover, and canopy closure. Matsutake mycelia habitat can vary greatly. Old growth forests to open Manzanita flats. Habitat is limited, to some extent, by tree association, a few conifer and evergreen hardwoods.


Common Name

Scientific Name

Tan Oak

Lithocarpus densiflorus


Arbutus menziesii
Chinkapin Castanopsis Chrysophylla
Manzanita Arctostaphylos nevadensis


Common Name Scientific Name
Ponderosa Pine Pinus ponderosa
White Fir Abies concolor
Douglass Fir Pseudotsuga menziesii
Shasta Red Fir Abies magnifica shastenis
Lodgepole Pine Pinus contorta
Mountain Hemlock Tsuga mertensiana


Allotropa, common name candy cane, is a saprophyte which indicates matsutake mycelia. It feeds on the mycelia, taking the nutrients it needs. The mycelia must be present if the "plant" is. Allotropa has been noted with all host trees wherever Matsutake grows in the Pacific Northwest.
It is rare to find mushrooms among allotropa. Fruiting area associated is within 5 to 15 Ft.
Allotropa growth begins in early spring as temperatures warm. Young allotropa resembles asparagus with no color, or a pink tint.
The maturing plant is red and white striped. This stage is reached in mid June to early September. A mature plant has tiny white flowers with a red center. Height is 3 inches to 3 feet. 
The bright color and size allow them to be detected at a distance. However, it is common to find only stalks due to animal browsing.
Dead allotrope is dark brown. It may stand in place for up to 3 years. Winter rains beat them down making them difficult to see at times.
Dead or alive they indicate matsutake. 
Allotropa can also introduce new harvesters to the smell of matsutake.
Directly under allotropa is matsutake mycelia. It will be white or have a bluish tint.  Remove a small portion and smell. The smell may vary slightly depending on moisture and time of year. The mushroom body is composed of the same material as the mycelia. Thus the same smell. Gills are the only specialized portion.


A variety of mushrooms spring up before, after, and during matsutake.
These mushrooms are generally called indicators. They indicate something about matsutake. It's too early, late, or matsutake  likely  fruiting nearby.
Many other fall mushrooms are certainly formed and triggered (begin to grow fruit) by temperature. There is little or no information of individual mushrooms needs.
Yellow and White Chanterelle are almost always before matsutake. Occasionally they may start together. The reason being, trigger temperature. Just as a low temperature can trigger a large area of matsutake, the trigger temperature of one or many varieties of mushrooms may be reached.
A variety of red russula  marks the end of the season. Only a minimum of fresh fruiting will occur in that area. A much lower elevation, sunnier situation or aspect may be well before peak.
Yellow corral is most commonly found near matsutake. The trigger for yellow corral is just a little above matsutake. Formation requirements are likely different. There can be corral and no matsutake, matsutake and no corral. Commercial harvesters use yellow corral more than any other fungi to guide them to mushrooms. If you find this corral and no matsutake, look to the darker side of corral fruiting.
It's not only the type of mushrooms you see, age is also an indicator. Note the age and type of any mushroom you see. Matsutake may be found with an observed variety and age mushroom. 
It is impossible to say what type of indicator you will find. Every area has its own fungi system. Each year could be different. Examine the clues nature provides you that year.


A variety of animals harvest and eat matsutake. During the process, there is a varying degree of disturbance to the forest floor.


Wood rats eat them in place or harvest them. Their nests, mounds of sticks, are easily seen from a distance. Watch for signs of digging. You may see bits of mushroom nearby.


Deer are the superior hunters of matsutake in the forest. Usually the first to find fresh fruit, which they prefer.  They paw the ground and kick them out. 
Watch for their trails and disturbance nearby. Trails that are well traveled usually lead to fruiting areas.


Human usually disturb the otherwise natural look to the litter layer. In most cases these areas yield small amounts. However, it is a good idea to note these areas for future years.


This section refers to shading trees create. In all habitats areas are shaded or not shaded due to nearby trees. These areas are known as edges. Timber cuts are an example of an edge. The sun is able to shine into the habitat a short distance. Edges that receive most sun will fruit last. They are last to cool. Edges that are shaded from afternoon sun, fruit first. If you find this type pattern, look for openings in the tree tops. Openings in the canopy create edges. Roads can also create edges. Often producing 1 to 6 feet inside a road edge. Edge fruiting is the most reliable.


Ridge tops create the best geographical temperature edges. Reliable fruiting usually occurs slightly to the cooler, or warmer side of the top, somewhere along the ridge. Smaller ridges, from a main ridge, can also be reliable. Similar situations are created by a pocket or bowl.


A wide variety of vegetation can be found in matsutake fruiting areas. There is no evidence of any influence other than thermal.
Under story vegetation such as huckleberry and rhododendron create shading. In most cases shading inhibits soil warming, requiring extended formation period.
Many varieties of ground cover may also be found. Salal, ferns, and moss are a few. The same thermal considerations apply.


The forest floor is covered by a layer of organic matter, known as litter. Under this layer, where soil meets litter, or 1 to 2 inches into soils, is where mushrooms begin to grow. Liter layers retain moisture and provides a humid environment for fruit growth. Areas with 1 to 3 inches of litter are most reliable. Litter also insulates, limiting soil warming. Layers over 3 inches seldom receive the warmth needed for formation.


In soils such as pumice, needles and soils mix together forming this layer. Fruit formation is from 1 to 6 inches from the surface.


As the mushroom grows, it pushes up the soil and litter cover, creating raised areas or bumps. Bumps usually indicate an older mushroom. Study each foot of ground around the bump. Get down on hands and knees and feel the ground. Push down on the litter with your hands. You will be able to feel other mushrooms. Don't worry about missing some, you will feel them before they are large enough to pick. It's better not to disturb the young ones. Return in a few days for a second picking.
Needle cast layers are generally tightly packed and crusted leaving little room for mushroom expansion. Young mushrooms can be detected by a slight rise, and a crack in the layer. These cracks resemble dry weather cracks. Poke your finger into the crack an feel for a mushroom top. Mushrooms will feel cool and moist. Size can also be determined in this manor. Cracks may contain 1 or run for several feet and contain 60.


Proper harvest methods are essential to achieve full production potential. Production decreases as disturbance increases. 
When you find a mushroom, remove litter and soil covering only the cap. Place your hand around the cap and wiggle it in a circular or side to side motion, DO NOT TWIST. Almost all can be harvested using this method. 
Occasionally mushrooms are tightly clustered and only 1 is mature enough to harvest. Care should be taken to limit damage to immature to remain.
Place your fingers on top of the immature, press down. Gently remove mature. This leaves young mushrooms undamaged, insuring another harvest.

Replace all soils and litter to its natural look.



Some situations may require a tool for harvest. Deep fruiting in tight soils leave little room for rotating, using hand method. A tool is needed. Uncover the mushroom as described in the previous section. Insert the tool, weed poppers are best, along the stalk to a depth just below its bottom, wiggle in a circular motion, as you pry up. Be sure to replace soils and litter.



Hold the mushroom by the stem, cap up. Gently tap the top with your hand. Brush the cap and stem with a piece of bed foam. Remove needles, leaves, and soil from both. Do not clean veil.


Worms, fly larvae, is the most common infestation found. To find worms, squeeze the stem. If you feel soft spots that run up and down, it probably has worms. Hoppers is another infestation. Examine the gill area for tiny red hopping insects. Infested mushrooms have a minimum or no commercial value.


The best container is a plastic bucket. Drill holes in side and bottom to allow air circulation, and put a lid on.
Stack the mushrooms in the bucket, gills down. The gill area is the focus of commercial value. Take precautions to protect it. Pack the bucket as tight as possible. Never leave mushrooms in the sun. Always set your container in the shade. Warmth matures mushrooms even after the are harvested.


Cool storage is important during warm periods. Place 2 to 3 inches of ice in an ice chest. Insert a basket and mushrooms. Cover with a damp cloth and close the lid.

Commercial Grades

#1 - No hole in the veil. Minimum length, some areas 2 inch some 21/2 in length. (Youngest)
#2 - 50% of the veil attached to cap.

#3 - Any portion still attached.

#4 - No veil attached, heavy curl to the cap.
#5 - Slight curl, or flat cap.

#6 - Cap curled up. (Fully Mature)

Damaged mushrooms are down graded according to severity of damage.


In good formation years, fruiting begins in the areas that cool first. Commercial harvesters refer to them as early season patches. As cooling continues, warmer situations begin to fruit. 

Map 1 indicates these areas.

Map 2 Middle season areas.

Map 3 Late season areas.

These maps indicate general cooling patterns. Areas that are shaded by geological features receive less sun, and cooling begins. The size of the area effected depends on the depth and length of cooling.
Fruiting may be limited to a small portion of one of these areas


No mushroom may be harvested, if it is not first formed. Biological needs are elusive. They are certainly important, but seem to be sufficient every year. Water has little or no effect during this stage.
Daily temperature average is the most critical.
Formation begins in the fall when soil temperatures fall below 58-60 degrees F. Mushroom formation begins as temperatures rise 5 -12 degrees. This type of warming is known as a heat bubble. Not enough or to much rise severely limits or stops formation. It is typical in hardwoods to have too little rise. Continuous cooling with only slight warming, forms no mushrooms. Eventually soils cool beyond formation limits and will produce no mushrooms that year. As little as three days of proper temperatures is enough to form commercial amounts. Formation patterns have been recorded up to 30 days.
There are 3 patterns for formation cooling. The short 3 to 5 day cycle, 3 to 5 day repeats, each cycle cooling further. The third pattern produces the bumper and banner year crops. Extended warming 5 -12 degrees, 2 - 3 weeks. On site temperatures are not necessary. Temperatures from a town nearby or local USFS will do. Many harvesters develop a feel for good formation period.


This is the stage the mycelia begins to develop formed fruit. The term commonly used by commercial harvesters is flush.
A temperature lower than the previous formation low, triggers a flush. Flushes can vary in intensity depending on how much lower a trigger low is, and the amount of fruit formed. 1 degree drops may trigger only a few. Where as a 3 degree drop triggers all that are formed. Continuous drops or insufficient warming, interrupts the process, formed mushrooms deteriorate. All information available indicates 46 degree, soil temperature at mycelia depth, as trigger.


Growth is the final stage of production. Temperature and water both play a role at this point. Water, moisture, and humidity (best of all) enhances mushroom size.
Temperature changes determine the rate of growth. Formed mushrooms that are triggered will grow slowly, or not at all, if proper changes do not occur. A general warming and daily variation between hi an low air temperature is the key. 20 to 30 degree variations between hi and low are best.


Getting ready for a matsi season can be simple or complicated, depending on experience and sincerity of an individual. One element all have in common is the need to know where matsutake grows. We are fortunate, in the Pacific Northwest, to have Allotropa to indicate where matsutake mycelia is located.


Allotropa, without a doubt, is the best year round hunting tool harvesters have available. This plant provides  harvesters a means to detect matsutake any time, except when the ground is covered with snow. Spring and summer walks in suspect areas could be extremely rewarding.  Try to locate areas at a variety of elevations and aspects. Most years have a defined production area. Mushrooms are only produced at certain elevations and aspects. Knowing areas high, low, sunny, and dark, gives you better odds mushrooms will emerge in an area you scouted. Take the time to find areas before harvest begins, not when you should be harvesting.
Allotropa can also be useful during harvest. Their dead bodies can be seen most any time. While harvesting, examine areas near them. There may be no mushrooms, but at least you know you are looking in an area that will produce if conditions are right.


The importance of forecasting has not been fully realized by the "Matsutake World". Partially due to an inability to understand, but mostly disbelief.  
Forecasting fruiting conditions includes knowing when and where it will start, how fast will they grow, and how much can be expect. All categories of forecasting are not necessary to become a successful harvester.


To start, mushrooms must form. Formation falls under the category, "How Much", and isn't information needed to know when, but if there will be any. Formation begins with the first cooling in the fall. The second cooling is when  mushrooms can begin to grow. Basic rule to start looking, Two cold spells,  or frosts. This rule can be followed in most cases. Variations are attributed to fruit growth category.


Where can be more difficult to determine. Knowing exactly where requires extensive knowledge of the area in question. Getting a  general idea is less difficult. Depth of original formation cooling is the key. Basic rule, The deeper the cooling, the sunnier the aspect, and the lower the elevation. Example: One year you harvested on the north side, at a high elevation. You found, or remember that the first cooling wasn't that deep. Another year the cooling was much deeper, and you found mushrooms in sunnier aspects and lower elevations. Similar cooling will produce in the same places.
If you don't have this information, all is not lost. A visit to your allotropa areas is necessary. Start looking in the coolest spots. Look within a few feet, 5 to 15, of allotrope sightings. If you find none, don't give up. Move to areas a little sunnier. Still none, change elevation. After you locate fruiting, note where fruiting is occurring. Elevation, sun exposure, aspect, and mushroom age are the keys. Age of mushrooms is immediately useful. Whatever age you find indicates older mushrooms in cooler places, and younger in sunnier. Basic rule, If you are finding older mushrooms, move toward the sun to find younger. If you are finding immature, move toward cooler spots. This rule can be followed in most cases. Variations are attributed to fruit growth category, "How Fast".  You may find younger mushrooms in cooler spots simply because they are not growing as fast. This is not the usual, but does happen. Use the knowledge acquired on this scout to find more areas. On your next stop, look for a similar situation. Most harvesters go into the forest looking at the ground. Look at the canopy and the exposure. Let them guide you to the same conditions where you have found fruiting that year. Then start looking for mushrooms. 


Growth rate depends on temperature changes. A general warming is needed with a variation in daily high and low temps. Extreme warming can slow growth, dry out, or burn mushrooms. 
Plan harvest schedules using this rule. Sunnier areas will require more frequent visits than cooler. 


Forecasting how much will be produced is the most difficult for most. There are many variables which influence final out come. Formation period is also temperature effected. Moisture is not necessary to form mushrooms. Many cases of bumper crop years, without rainfall, are a matter of record. The period between first cooling and second, is the formation period. Basic rule, The longer the period between first cooling and second, with warming of 5 - 12 degree average daily air temp, the more productive the season.
Elements which inhibit formation are limited warming, too much warming and extended cooling. More than one formation period may exist in a given year. Continued cooling enables more area, sunny aspects and lower elevations, to begin formation. A warming after several cooling events, each a little cooler than the previous, could form mushrooms.


California, Oregon, and Washington require permits for special forest products. Permits are available at most USFS and BLM local offices. A permit from property owner, is necessary on private lands.

Always use good picking habits. Poor picking reduces mushrooms produced, and may give others the final clue needed to find mushrooms.

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