Chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, boletus, morels, morels... the richness of the Aragonese mountains as producers of mushrooms is tremendous, with 2,485 cataloged species and more than 2.2 million hectares with habitats suitable for wild mushrooms. And, although the terrain allows you to enjoy the pleasure of collecting these delicacies of the earth throughout the year, these days the autumn season has already begun, possibly the most popular among enthusiasts.
For the moment, the Pyrenees and some areas of Teruel, such as the Sierra de Albarracín and Maestrazgo, show favorable conditions to pick up the basket and the knife and spend a good day in nature. However, the variability of the climate puts on the table which areas are in an optimal state and it is convenient to be aware of what the weather dictates to undertake the adventure.
In fact, both the Pyrenees and Albarracín and Maestrazgo are some of the ‘classic’ areas for the mushroom lover in Aragon, but not the only ones. The Iberian System and Cinco Villas, for example, are also rich in this resource and it is the sky and the state of the mountain that dictates how each case is.
“If you know how to move, you can be picking mushrooms all year round,” says Fernando Martínez Peña, a researcher at the Center for Agri-Food Research and Technology of Aragón (CITA). This expert affirms that in Aragón “there is a lot of diversity”, including species that are fundamental from a commercial point of view.
However, all this wealth, with a tremendous potential from the tourist point of view, must be taken care of for its sustainability, since wild mushroom productions face threats such as climate change, changes in land use, uncontrolled harvesting, inadequate management and illegal trade. From public awareness to administrative regulation, all actors are important for the Community to remain a favorable territory in terms of mycology.
To this end, Micoaragón was born last year, a project of the Autonomous Executive that aims to promote the collaboration of all those interested in improving sustainable management and mycotourism valorization.
Mycological parks to optimally manage resources
To this end, one of its proposals is the creation of mycological parks, areas rich in this resource that allow the collection of mushrooms with the processing of a permit. For the moment, the Albarracín mycological park has already joined the project and there are three more in the process of applying for a permit.
In this area of Teruel there are more than 60,000 hectares of park, with an average annual sustainable production of almost 32,000 kilos in its pine and beech forests, whose fruits are delicacies such as white (boletus edulis) and black (boletus aereus) boletus or chanterelles (lactarius deliciosus), among others.
Not only that, but the Micoaragón website also offers visitors the chance to book accommodation in the area, find out which are the best establishments in the area for tasting seasonal mushrooms and discover the activities that take place around this practice, such as meetings and mycological days.
Thus, in addition to providing resources such as weather information or a guide to the area, Micoaragón offers a clear and accessible framework, also for the mycological tourist, since it unifies the way to process permits and provides certainty to the visitor.
In fact, we must not forget the current regulation of mushroom picking in Aragon, which, although it applies in all public and private forests of the Community, provides for exceptions such as the owner of the land signaling otherwise or it is a regulated area.
With this type of regulation, in exchange for a permit -in the case of Albarracín, for 5 euros-, access is offered to an area where you can collect in peace, in a space that also offers additional services to the visitor and, consequently, promotes the creation of “a value chain” around this practice, as the CITA expert says.
In fact, the income obtained in these parks is reinvested in them to organize, for example, informative conferences or mycological markets and to maintain surveillance and cleanliness of the forest.
A great potential, and not only for tourism
The mycological wealth of Aragon is not a trivial matter, as Martínez Peña emphasizes, who sees “a lot of potential” in a territory located near Catalonia, Madrid, the Basque Country and France. “There are very powerful outbound markets of tourists”, emphasizes the researcher on a territory such as Aragon, “very diverse” in terms of mushrooms.
However, tourism is not the only sector that can move money around mushrooms. Another leg “with a huge potential” are companies, for the moment, few in Aragon, which base their business model on, for example, edible wild species, in the generation of protein as an alternative source to animal or in using mushrooms as biomaterial or fertilizer. “There are a lot of possibilities,” Martínez Peña stresses.
As an example, he tells of the proposal he recently learned about from some U.S. entrepreneurs, who are working with the mycelium – the root-like part – to create biomaterials such as fabrics to replace leather, construction materials or even structures for satellites, in the latter case, thanks to their ability to recover their shape.
Good practices, a fundamental issue
But, returning to the typical mushroom picking, it is convenient to remind the amateur of the good practices that must be complied with in order to be able to enjoy this resource in the future. Basic and necessary issues such as those included in the Micoaragón website, which stresses the importance of being sure of what species is being collected and thus avoid the risk of poisoning, and also recommends getting into this world with the help of experts.
Also, being aware that the owners of the mushrooms are the owners of the land where they bear fruit, so they urge you to make sure that you have the necessary permits and authorizations.
Once in the area, it is essential to have the appropriate materials, such as an aerated basket, knife and brush. And, of course, do not destroy toxic species, as they all perform important ecological functions for the forest. Likewise, old edible specimens should not be collected or destroyed, as they contribute to the dispersion of spores.
In addition, from Micoaragón they urge not to collect in urban environments, roads and contaminated areas, since mushrooms accumulate heavy materials and their ingestion can be harmful to health.
Beyond the application of these good practices, mushroom enthusiasts can also contribute to the conservation of this wealth with initiatives such as the Interfungi application, which was created with the aim of improving the knowledge and protection of Aragonese mushrooms.
With it, any amateur collector can give information anonymously and voluntarily from the field. “It is very important to know the distribution of the species, the phenology (i.e., the fruiting periods), how the climate is affecting them or other circumstances such as orientation, soils or forest management,” explains Martínez Peña.
To do this, just download the app on your cell phone, a service that, among its functions, also includes receiving regular information with balances and forecasts of the mycological campaign.