First crop of Lactarius deliciosus

It was only one, but it made Professor Wang Yun a happy man. After Peg had done her stuff in Hagley Park, the NZTA conference attendees jumped on a bus for a visit to a productive truffiere in North Canterbury, and then on to Limestone Hills. Wang was on the tour, but instead of joining everyone in the truffiere, he headed off to the little patch of Pinus radiata infected with Lactarius deliciosus that I planted as part of a trial three or four years ago. Mine was the only plantation that had not produced, so Wang was interested to have a look and see how things were going. And this is what he found…

SaffronMilkCap2005-1
A perfect little saffron milk cap, all on its own in North Canterbury.

Why mine was so slow to produce is something of a mystery. It is probably down to the fact that I used glyphosate to keep the young radiata plants free of weeds. This fruiting body was down in a little rabbit scrape, barely sticking its cap above ground level. Next year, the mycelium should have fully recovered, and as the trees have been growing vigourously (they have irrigation) I hope to get a much more substantial harvest

Wang’s the man behind the introduction of saffron milk cap to New Zealand. The mushroom is commonly sold in European markets, and as the Latin name suggests, is highly regarded as a culinary mushroom. In Australia, where the fungus was accidentally introduced in pine plantations (especially in Victoria and New South Wales), there is a thriving local market supplying restaurants. Market price is usually around $50/kg. Wang’s idea is that if foresters planted trees infected with mushrooms, they would benefit from an income stream while waiting for the timber to mature. In fact, it’s possible that the mushrooms could be worth more than the wood.

At Limestone Hills, our aim is much more modest. I just want to grow enough to be able to have some good feeds every year. I cooked the one in the picture, sliced, in a little butter. It lived up to its name.

17 thoughts on “First crop of Lactarius deliciosus”

  1. I am keen to try to grow saffron milk caps in our (very small) pine plantation. My husband is worried though about the likelihood of the saffron milk caps being ruined by worms since the area we would plant the new trees with the hope that they would innoculate the existing ones, is covered in trea tree and the mushrooms that grow there are heaviloy infected with worms. He is reluctant to plant the new trees among the existing pines because he doubts whether the new pines would be able to compete for food. (Our pines are about 15 years old.) I have searched the internet but am finding it difficult to obtain any information about saffron milk caps and their suseptibility to worm infestation. Can you direct me to any sites, or help me in any way? Thanks a lot.

  2. Hi Christine,

    A couple of things you should consider: the “worms” you’re finding in the mushrooms are actually the larvae of several species of fly. The longer the mushrooms have been above ground. the more likely they are to be worm-ridden. This happens with all mushrooms, everywhere, and there’s not much you can do about it – except to pick the mushrooms within a day or two of their reaching a good size.

    To get saffron milk caps you have to plant pine seedlings that are infected with the SMC fungus, then grow the trees on until they’re big enough to support the fungus fruiting – say 3 – 4 years. It might be possible to infect the pines you already have growing, but that would be much more hit and miss – and you’d need a lot of saffron milk caps to have a chance. And they’re pretty rare in NZ – I haven’t found any more (probably not been watering enough).

    It’s also difficult to get the young infected trees: the technology for producing seedlings is owned by a forestry company. I got mine as part of a trial…

    Hope that helps!

  3. Yes it does help. Thank you very much for your rapid reply. Regarding the infected trees, we have been in touch with Dr Ian Hall and have arranged to get the infected plants later this year. In the trial he ran, the infected plants did in fact infect the more mature trees in the end, but were planted among the existing trees after some had been removed to make room for them. The established trees in his trial though were only 5 years old, whereas ours are 15 years old. My husband is reluctant to thin our pines until he sees whether the new trees will produce, and whether the worms, or flies as you point out, will allow us to harvest a crop. I am trying to allay his fears.

  4. As I understand it (and I defer to Ian’s expertise in this matter), SMC is an aggressive fungus, and once established could well spread through the rest of your trees replacing the fungi already present (or at least, to some extent). I have plans – when my existing trees produce more mushrooms than I can eat, which might be a while 😉 – to try to post-infect some mature radiata.

    With the flies, as long as you pick the fruitbodies (ie mushrooms) before their eggs hatch, they’ll be fine. I’m not sure how long the egg – hatch – larvae cycle takes, but the mushroom does have to have been around for a reasonable length of time for it to be a problem from a consumption point of view. When I pick porcini in Christchurch, for example, if I pick “new” fruitbodies (from a post-rain flush of fruiting) they’re usually fine – it’s only the ones that have escaped being picked and hung around for a week or more that are “wormy”.

    1. i have friends coming from Italy to stay with me for two weeks…we’d like to forage for porcini and was hoping you could tell me when is the best time to be looking for them…they would love to come while they’re fruitng! And where should we be looking in Christchurch?? grazia

      1. Any time from now (end of February) through to the first frosts. The porcini usually appear about a week after the first heavy rain of late summer. I’m not giving away any of my secret places, but you could look round any of the oak trees in Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens. But be warned: lots of others will be looking too!

  5. hi we have some 18yearold pine trees on our farm and would like to know more about the saffron mushrooms and how to go about producing them Cheers

  6. Hi Ana,

    The normal way to do this is to plant seeding trees that have been infected with the fungus you want. It is possible – at least theoretically – to introduce the fungus on to older trees, but they will already have established relationships with suitable fungi, and they might be hard to dislodge.

    One way to do this is to rip the soil around the trees so that you damage the roots, and then introduce the spores of the mushroom into the soil. If all goes well, new roots grow and become infected with the new fungus. This is fine in theory, but never that simple in practice. One drawback is having a source of saffron milk caps. The commercial crops being grown in the Gisborne area are being exported. And I don’t have any spare… sorry!

    Hope that helps.

  7. Hi guys,
    I would reaaaally appreciate it if anyone could tell me where I could get infected with SMC fungus pine trees from!!!
    Many thanks!

  8. Hi Gareth,
    sorry if I’ve missed an update on the Lactarius deliciosus trial patch that you’ve mentioned here but have you had any more success in harvesting them?
    I thought that they couldn’t be grown on Alkaline soils?

    1. We’ve not been having huge success, I’m sorry to report. Although the trees have grown very well, the site is dry and not (currently) irrigated. We also have lots of rabbits digging round the trees. I don’t think the soil’s an issue — it’s not the lime-rich stuff we have in the truffiere.

  9. Hi there,

    Saw your articles and so have registered. I too am keen to grow milkcaps on radiata. I grew up collecting them around Melbourne, Australia. My parents are East Europeans and love them – i have collected and barbecued, pickled and eaten raw heaps over the years. They are not unlike a sweetmeat rather than a fungi. If anyone could kindly advise me how i could start some up (i have about ten acres of 25 year old radiatas that may soon fell and possibly replace some) then i am all ears and eager to befriend anyone who cares to help me towards this end, ta, alex (ph021 210 2500)

    1. Hi Alex, thanks for the interest. To grow Saffron Milkcaps properly, you need to start with seedling pines infected with the fungus. As far as I know, they are not currently available ex-nurseries in NZ – though there might be one or two that could do it to order.

      Cheers

  10. I have grown Oyster Mushrooms in wood chips and they are quite easy, as well as button mushrooms in compost.

    My favorite mushrooms are Saffron Milky Caps and I would like to grow them in a plastic bin in my rooftop mushroom grower. Is it possible to grow them in some kind of pine compost? Has anyone had any luck with this?

    I live in a city and do not have a pine grove, nor do I have access to one. Any ideas?

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