Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the subject of mushrooms

During my initial field days at Mudumalai I thought the trackers (field assistants) had a fetish for only one thing...honey. Recently I've discovered their partiality for another delicacy...mushrooms.

As we're driving along nowadays, mostly in the moister parts of the sanctuary, there's this sudden frenzy in the vehicle..."Mani, STOP!" What? What? Total confusion as the vehicle screeches to a halt and all the trackers jump out of the vehicle running towards a common destination. "What is it?" I ask, excitedly. After a brief survey of their activities, Mani turns around and says, "Mushrooms, madam", with a bored expression. That wasn't the first time. Since the last two months the trackers have often disappeared after field work to gather mushrooms that they'd seen on the way to the site. "One two minutes, madam", Bomma would inform me and scuttle off to collect his share. I can't help but feel amused. :)

Of course, not all mushrooms can be eaten. The trackers usually collect a huge white one. There are so many different types that are sprouting pretty much everywhere now, wherever it's moist enough. I remember Rutuja showing me photos of a few that she had come across when she was banding trees at Benne plot. There is one that Bomma has shown me twice so far. It's small but, as Bomma points out after excavating one, it will grow only on the roots of a particular short grass species. Now that's interesting. I wonder how many different types there are in all and if they all have particular associations?

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