A Few Illustrated Mushroom Highlights

by Gary Lincoff


INTRODUCTION: Inspired by an article by Roy Watling on the larger fungi from Kashmir, we choose parts of northern India and Nepal as an area to explore with a mushroom study tour in the fall of 1985, selecting September as the time mostly likely to find the most diverse mushrooms. With nearly 30 people, almost all veteran mushroom hunters, we spend two weeks looking for mushrooms and meeting with local mycologists.

Trip Leaders: Gary and Irene Lincoff, Emanuel and Joanne Salzman, Andrew Weil

Trip Participants: Dennis Aita, John Bergman, Jill Carver, Morris Gordon, Tom and Maxine Gorton, Lester and Betty Guttman, Walt and Cecelia Johnson, Sharon Kitagawa, Madeline Kle, Ruth Krasner, Richard Munger, Ken Neldner, Al Northup, George and Tatiana Roats, Rita Rosenberg, Stan Siegler, Carlene Skeffington, Marilyn Smith, Larry Stickney, Elizabeth Zeratsky.


Planned Itinerary: Our plan is to visit New Delhi, Srinigar, Shimla, Solon, Chandigarh, and Varinasi in India, and Kathmandu, Nepal. We plan to meet with our counterparts in India and Nepal, to hunt mushrooms, and to see the sights, like the Taj Mahal.


Some of the mycologists we meet:

Delhi: J. N. Kapoor

Srinigar: T. N. Kaul and Sales Abraham

Chandigarh: B. M. Sarwal, G. S. Rawla

Shimla: T. M. Lakhankal

Solon: T. R. Shandiya and P. K. Seth, C. L. Jandaik

Chandigarh: K. S. Thind

Nepal: M. K. Adhikari, H. R. Bhandary, Van Cotter


          We fly into New Delhi, the capital of India. It’s an inland city, hot, crowded, and very noisy. We are in culture shock before we even unpack. After a too brief period of adjustment, we are eager to leave for Kashmir, and hope the Shangri la fantasy we grew up with includes mushrooms.


homeless people


          SRINIGAR: We fly from New Delhi to the cooler and sparsely populated Srinigar, the capital of Kashmir, at about 5000 feet above sea level. We have entered the famous “vale of Kashmir,” in fables a paradise on Earth portrayed as a garden always in bloom. It only gets about 20” of rainfall a year, but it is Kashmir, so there must be mushrooms, so we think.


    Srinigar city
    woman in black
    Dal Lake:
         flower boat
         boy in flower boat

Srinigar Mughal garden

          GULMARG: We meet T.N. Kaul and Sales Abraham at a mycological research institute in Srinagar, and Sales accompanies us on our collecting trip to Gulmarg. Gulmarg is 20 miles or so west of Srinagar and is about 6,000 feet above sea level. The road there is flanked by poplars and crowded with goats being herded along. We find Gulmarg to be forested with fir and birch, as well as areas of spruce and pine. We collect over 50 mushrooms, including a beautiful collection of Volvariella speciosa. We find a few chanterelles and some boletes, principally Suillus sibiricus, a Strobilomyces, and Boletus edulis. We also find the Panther Amanita, Amanita pantherina. We drive back to our houseboats to display and identify our collections. Unbeknownst to us, one in our group sequesters the “Panther,” and that night eats several of them. We hear the next day from his wife that, though he is fine now, he howled much of the night. We never heard him because one of our group participants brought along a block-buster tape player and it was playing too loudly to hear anything else. So we learn about one person’s experience under the influence of that notorious mushroom.

Mushroom ID on houseboat: Sales Abraham, Gary, Andy Weil, Les Guttman
ID: Dennis Aita, Carlene Skeffington, Stan Siegler

Marilyn Smith with Volvariella speciosa

           PAHLGAM: We next drive out to Pahlgam, which is about the same distance east of Srinagar, and at about 8000 feet. It has spruce and pine mixed with areas of fir and birch. We find another 50 or so mushrooms, many the same as the day before, but including one particularly good looking collection of Lentinus lepideus. The terrain is steep in spots and Sharon falls and twists her ankle. Almost hidden from sight, we stumble onto a fallen tree and earthen cave of sorts inhabited by a family of gypsies. They are friendly but completely disinterested in our passion for mushrooms.

Lentinus lepideus


HIMACHAL PRADESH: We drive to Shimla, hours away and high in the Himalayas.


          SHIMLA: Shimla (often written Simla) is a hill town up at 7100 feet above sea level. The houses in places look like they’re built right into the steep hillsides. Shimla receives about 65” of precipitation a year, and we hope to find more mushrooms than we did in Kashmir.

                   THE GLEN: a mushroom foray. We find more than 50 mushrooms on this foray but Al gets lost when he is taking photographs and neglects to notice that we have moved on. Jill gets lost when she goes over a hill and forgets which hill she has gone over, and it is quite dark before she is found. Manny falls and twists his ankle, like Sharon a few days before, and Carlene trips and breaks her glasses. And there is nothing especially difficult about the terrain here. The most interesting find is a large number of the small chanterelle, Cantharellus minor, right where Carlene trips.

          In a discussion with Indian mycologists we ask about mushroom clubs in India. We are told that India has no leisure class, no time for people to do things that interest them. All mushroom study is economically based. Local edible mushrooms that have a cash value are studied in a few universities, and mushroom cultivation is pursued in some areas. We are told that we, as primarily amateur mycologists, have no counterpart in India. However, we meet Dr. Lakhanpal, a world renowned expert on myxomycetes (slime molds) and some of his students who are studying Lactarius in the Shimla area, and together we go off to hunt mushrooms as we would in the U.S.


                 NARKANDA: Near Shimla, Narkanda is a dusty town with a frontier appearance located at 8500 feet above sea level. With Dr. Lakhanpal and his wife (an M.D.) leading us, we drive up above Narkanda to a dense forest and, though steep in places, we find mushrooms everywhere and collect over 100 different kinds. We find at least 10 different boletes, 5 Amanitas, and a purple chanterelle that goes unidentified. The most interesting find is a mushroom that looks like a Pholiota with a smooth cap that is growing on the ground. One suggested name for it is Agrocybe. We can’t place it in any of the genera we know from North America. Since nearly all the mushrooms we are finding are familiar at least to genus, we are stumped. Months later, while preparing for a mushroom study tour to New Zealand, I come across an article by Egon Horak on the genus Descolea. Our mystery mushroom is a Descolea, something that looks somewhat like an annulate Agrocybe or a Rozites. Its distribution is strangely disjunct. It is found in New Zealand, southern Argentina, and Japan. And, now, Himalayan India! What a puzzle.


Narkanda town
Narkanda trail up into the forest

Dennis Aita, Irene Lincoff, Mrs. Lakhanpal climbing
Dr. & Mrs. Lakhanpal, Dennis Aita, Irene Lincoff

display table: Gary, Joanne Salzman, Dr. Lakhanpal
Simla: Amanita "caesarea"

Gyromitra "infula"

Gomphus etc.

Simla: temple monkeys

Descolea illustrations in Egon Horak article

          SOLON: We take the train from Shimla to Solon, where we visit a mushroom cultivation center where both Agaricus bisporus and Pleurotus sajor-caju are being grown with the goal of helping local people develop a cash crop. For us, though, the most interesting mushroom is at the railroad station: a large, fresh collection of the chicken mushroom, Laetiporus sulphureus.


          One of the unique features of India, we find, is the paan seller on the streets of many Indian cities. Paan is a mixture of plant materials that you put in your cheek and leave there. It acts as a stimulant. Paan is composed of a leaf from the pepper plant that is used to enfold betel nut palm fruit, acacia bark, cardamon, and whatever else is desired. At the end of a rather formal dinner one evening, waiters wearing white gloves carry around silver trays with small candy sized units of paan wrapped in silver foil. You put the whole thing in your mouth, silver wrapper and all. A large elaborately ornamented spittoon is brought in to the room. When and as often as necessary you spit the reddish saliva that builds up in your mouth into the spittoon. Raised not to spit in public, and finding it unpleasant to swallow the juice, we sit there as a group with our mouths full and no apparent solution at hand. Having to converse with our Indian hosts, though, necessarily solves the problem and, doing what they do, we learn to spit politely and speak with our mouths full. On the street, however, people spit wherever and whenever the need arises. We learn to avoid being hit.

cultivating oyster mushrooms
Solon: paan seller

Uttar Pradesh: Varanasi: man charming cobra



       KATHMANDU: We fly into Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, located at 4200 feet above sea level, and nestled amid the highest mountains in the world. Some people come here to climb the high peaks. We are here to hunt mushrooms. With 50” of rainfall a year, and a surrounding forest of conifers and oaks, we expect to find a lot of mushrooms.

                   Some of us are wearing t-shirts with mushroom designs on them. Someone on the street in Kathmandu approaches us and asks us if we want some mushrooms. What he wants to know is whether we want some “magic mushrooms.” He motions us to follow him, and about six of us do. We go up one street and down another, on and on, until we finally have to stop him and tell him that we have had enough of wandering around aimlessly. He says it is only another two blocks. When we get there, he goes in and comes out with a handful of oyster mushrooms! We laugh, and say that oyster mushrooms are not “magic mushrooms.” He insists that they are. Perhaps, they have been doctored in some way. In any case, we leave him and go back to the main street in town. On another day we see the Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus) packaged for sale by an outdoor vendor on a street in Kathmandu.

                   We meet Van Cotter, one of Orson Miller’s graduate students who is studying mushrooms in Nepal, and he joins us on a mushroom hunt in the nearby Nargarjun Forest. We find over 100 mushrooms. The most beautiful include Lactarius indigo and a purple gilled Phaeocollybia. We also find a very large, photogenic Amanita in section Lepidella, plus a dozen or so boletes, chanterelles, and many others.

Mushroom hunt above Kathmandu:

Kathmandu: view from above
Gary, Al Northup, Van Cotter

hunting mushrooms
unknown mushrooms

Gary at mushroom display

Hydnum "repandum" complex

coral fungi
Lactarius indigo

 Amanita sp.

Mushroom hunt in Nagarjun Forest, and images of Amanita section Lepidella, one held by Sharon Kitagawa:

SUMMARY of the mushroom part of our tour:

While our collecting is disappointing  in Kashmir, what we find in the Shimla area, and above Kathmandu, more than makes up for it. We are impressed, again, with the realization that however unfamiliar the people, their clothing, their habits, their diet, the mushrooms we find are mostly what we find in the United States, either the same species or very similar ones. One noted exception is our collection of a Descolea on our Narkanka foray. This is the first mushroom we find that seems to have a Gondwana distribution. That is, species in the genus Descolea are found in southern South America, New Zealand & Australia, Japan, the Russian Far East, and Himalayan India, suggesting that at one time these land masses were connected, and that the trees these mushrooms are mycorrhizal with, were, possibly, once part of a continuous forest.