Laccocephalum mylittae – an ancient edible

After there has been a bushfire in the forests around here, and in fact in many parts of Australia, there are a number of fungi that are triggered to send up fruiting bodies. One of these is Laccocephalum mylittae  (formerly Polyporus mylittae), known in early colonial times as Blackfellow’s bread. This is because it was eaten by the Aboriginal people and it has a sclerotium with a texture rather like grains of cereal pressed together. When sliced it is dense like pumpernickel. This fungus may well have been consumed as a food for tens of millenia. It is widespread across the country.

The fungus spends most of its existance feeding on fallen or buried logs. From this woody matter it transports material to a large underground sclerotium which slowly grows in size. It is reported to grow to as large as 600 mm diameter, but the ones I have seen have been about the size of a football. The sclerotium is heavy, with an estimated relative density of 1.1. This growth may go on for 30 years or more, until there is a fire to trigger off the cycle. The sclerotium rapidly sends forth a fruiting body which is apparent at the surface of the ground within a couple of days of the fire. These are commonly seen along side fallen logs. The mushroom is fairly non-descript at first, eventually becoming more defined as it consumes the sclerotium over a period of about a month.

Here is a young mushroom with the sclerotium attached. The mushroom is white, whereas the sclerotium has a dark brown skin covering it.

 

One can easily imagine that the Aboriginal people would have swept through areas they had burned a couple of days earlier to harvest the scelorotiums, which can be quite numerous. Being dense, they provide a significant food source and they do not appear to decay rapidly. They can be crumbled up and dried out into something resembling a cereal grain. Whether the Aboriginal people did this is probably unknown. The picture below shows the scerotium cut open to reveal the inner texture.

It is entirely possible that this fungus could be cultivated like any other wood rotter. I have a specimen that I will attempt to clone if I have the time and inclination. It might make an interesting addition to our native food cuisine. I would describe the taste as bland, but a friend found it to be quite pleasant. It would lend itself to some creative cooking. Apparently, it has significant nutritional value.

The mature specimen is shown below. It can be seen that the mushroom has grown, while the sclerotium has become depleted.

13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Le Loup said,

    A great post, excellent. Thank you.
    I will add a link to your blog on my blog. Looking foreward to more posts like this one.
    Regards, Le Loup.
    A Woodsrunner’s Diary.

  2. 2

    Very interesting! Something like that should feed several folks!

  3. 3

    bexytea said,

    Polyporos is also used in Chinese herbal medicine to nourish the digestion, promote urination and calm the spirit. I wonder if the local Aboriginal people used it for the same thing…

  4. 4

    Yves said,

    I found one of these when I was a child, in the hills a around Lorne in Victoria. Strangest thing I’ve ever seen. For 20 years I’ve been trying to discover what exactly it was I found. Thanks for the answer!

  5. 6

    forestfungi said,

    Great site! Have you tried growing it?
    I would love to have a go-do you have a culture available?
    I’ve been looking for this fungus for years…
    Cheers,
    Will

  6. 7

    forestfungi said,

    Wow, great find-I’ve been looking for it for ages.
    Have you cloned it?
    Would you have any to share? I’ve got a flow hood…
    Cheers,

    • 8

      morrie2 said,

      Hi,

      I don’t have a culture unfortunately, just a dried sample. I think it would be a simple matter to culture it though. And I think it has potential as a commercial crop. I am sure I can find it again in the right circumstances. It is just a matter of getting in quickly after a fire. Perhaps next summer. I went looking for it specifically last time. It sometimes feels like they call to me.

      My other business interests have robbed me of the time to keep up with culturing things these days. I don’t have a flow hood but have good success with quite basic methods that I have adapted to suit my situation.

      I will let you know if I find some more and manage to get it cultured.

      Cheers

      Morrie

      • 9

        will said,

        Thanks Morrie,
        I hope they call you soon! I get that feeling with some fungi and plants as well.
        I used to just culture using a glove box-very successful, but a bit awkward and slow compared to my free flow hood. Now I feel a bit spoilt, culturing is so easy.
        If ever you want to trade edible cultures, let me know.
        Cheers,
        Will

  7. 10

    […] Port Phillip and central Victoria (Melbourne: Melbourne Museum Publishing) Tall trees and mushrooms https://morrie2.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/polyporus-mylittae-an-ancient-edible/ Tisdall, H T (1886) Fungi of north Gippsland. Part II.  The Victorian Naturalist 3: 106–109 […]

    • 11

      morrie2 said,

      Interesting. So it would appear that they could detect the fungus from the smell of the log that is the host. Next time I see it, I will investigate the smell of the log. Someone did mention to me a strong smell where these were growing, but I did not detect it.

      I think that the article is a little harsh in its judgment. The words quoted (one can easily imagine…) do not imply that the country was burned for the purpose of harvesting the fungus, but that it would have been a by product of burning, which is exactly what the author goes on to say. Interesting that the size is described as being like a large turnip. The ones that I have seen were much larger than any turnip that I have ever grown or seen.

      It is good to get some definite references to the consumption of this fungus, as J H Willis suggests that the use of it by Aboriginal people is debatable.

      It may be that the Aboriginal people could detect the fungus from the smell of the wood, but a single reference to this in an otherwise bewildered set of observations is hardly enough to hang your hat on. The possibility arises in my mind that the logs might be initially identified by the emergence of the fruiting bodies after a fire and exploited in subsequent years. The apparently small size of the fungus would support this view. Logs may well have been marked or simply remembered. There is no supporting evidence presented about the smell of the wood or any indication that the author has been able to duplicate the detection methods of the Aborigines.

      Lastly, it might have been courteous of the author to discuss the matter before announcing his derisive misinterpretation of my words at a conference.

  8. 12

    Karl Stevens said,

    Thanks for posting this. I know people here in Tassie who ate this fungus ‘bread’ when it was bought home by a farmer who found them in paddocks or the bush. After reading Mycellium Running by Stamets I’m sure it could be cultivated. This fungi also appears to be unique to Australia.

    • 13

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Karl,

      I have no doubt that this mushroom could be cultivated too. It is a simple matter to take a culture from a live specimen and several people I know have cultures that I have provided them.

      Getting it to form sclerotia might be a little more challenging and the ones that you find in the wild have probably been there for many decades.

      This fungus (note singular form of the word) is not unique to Australia and in fact it is part of Chinese traditional medicine. The Chinese have grown the mycelium in submerged culture to produce desirable medicinal compounds.

      Cheers,

      Morrie


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