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Desert Truffles of the Australian Outback: Ecology, Ethnomycology, and Taxonomy1
Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-5752, USA 3 Department of Environment and Climate Change, Parks and Wildlife Division, Planning and Performance Unit, Southern Branch, P.O. Box2115, Queanbeyan, New South Wales 2620, Australia 4 Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia 5 Aboriginal Scholar (Fenner School of Environment and Society), The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

Desert Truffles of the Australian Outback: Ecology, Ethnomycology, and Taxonomy. The Aborigines ofcentral Australia have traditionally used desert truffles as food. Truffle hunting in the desert requires substantial ecological knowledge, as truffles occur sporadically and only with adequate and properly distributed rainfall as well as the presence of necessary soil conditions and mycorrhizal hosts. Truffles are hunted primarily by women, who look for cracks or humps in the soil caused by expansion ofthe truffles, which are then extracted with digging sticks. The truffles are typically eaten raw or baked or roasted in ashes. Seven truffle species are recorded from the Australian Outback, including three that have been only recently described. Key Words: Hypogeous fungi, mycorrhizae, Ascomycota, Pezizales, Pezizaceae, Elderia, Horakiella, Mattirolomyces, Mycoclelandia, Reddellomyces, Ulurua,Aboriginal use.

The use of desert truffles by Aborigines of central Australia has been documented since the late 19th Century, though the tradition probably goes back for millennia (Trappe 1990). The Aborigines, like other desert-dwelling societies worldwide, are notable for their ability to survive in extreme desert conditions, and for their intimate understanding of the environmentand its biota. Seven truffle species (three of which are new to science) belonging to six genera (one being new to science) have been discovered so far in the central Australian deserts, popularly known as the Outback: Elderia arenivaga, Horakiella watarrkana, Mycoclelandia arenacea, M. bulandari, Reddellomyces westraliensis, Ulurua nonparaphysata, and Mattirolomyces mulpu (Trappe

et al. n.d.).In this paper, we describe the ecology of desert truffles and their uses by the Aborigines of central Australia and present a key and brief descriptions for the known species.

Truffle Ecology in the Australian Outback


Published online 23 October 2008.

Desert truffles fruit only in years with adequate and properly distributed rainfall and depend on othernecessary conditions of soil, climate, and suitable host plants. Australian desert truffles have been observed to fruit and mature relatively quickly after soil-wetting rainfall. Aborigines are masterful at surviving in areas with extremely low rainfall (Bayly 1999), and their association of truffles with seasonally wet soil is illustrated in the painting Tjintipanta by Aboriginal artist Betsy NapangardiLewis (Fig. 1). The painting depicts

Economic Botany, 62(3), 2008, pp. 497–506 © 2008, by The New York Botanical Garden Press, Bronx, NY 10458-5126 U.S.A.



[VOL 62

Fig. 1. Painting by Aboriginal artist Betsy Napangardi Lewis. The circles on the left are desert truffles; blue areas are waterholes. The concentric circles on the right represent a claypan where theNapanangka Napangardi women danced and performed ceremonies. According to legend, the digging sticks for unearthing the truffles rose up out of the water holes. The U-shapes are women with their digging sticks. (Photo courtesy of Songlines Aboriginal Art Gallery, San Francisco; all rights reserved).

abundant truffles among many waterholes in the desert, as would occur only after heavy rainfall. The...
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