Aysén region: A paradise for its diversity of fungi

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Entoloma necopinatumEntoloma necopinatum
Text and photos by Dinelly Soto
Translated by William Young
The beauty of the natural heritage in Chilean Patagonia is almost self-evident. Its rivers, waterfalls, climbing routes, hiking, geodiversity, forest and species of iconic fauna make its places from north to the south truly unique destinations. 
However, there exist some organisms which at times go unnoticed: the fungi. Growing on branches, trunks and the forest floor, they are present in a great variety of species and are a wonder to behold for those who take notice of them.
The kingdom Fungi, to which mushrooms belong, is a kingdom filled with mysteries. These organisms, which are neither plants nor animals, are special for their varieties, shapes, and colors, as well as their consistencies and types of food. These organisms have the enormous mission of recycling the organic material of our forests and maintaining its health, sharing nutrients in a close relation with plants and trees.
Guepiniopsis alpinaGuepiniopsis alpina
When the temperature and humidity are right, they appear in all their splendor, with the autumn and spring seasons showing off the greatest number of species. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any during winter and summer, as there do exist species such as Ganoderma australe, known locally as “oreja de palo,” which is around all year given that it is a perennial. Observing them is really an extraordinary experience that people of all ages can enjoy.
For those who like photography, it’s a great opportunity to do portraits of the beautiful species that develop in autumn, such as the striking Cortinarius magellanicus, which has a very characteristic intense purple color, or the beautiful Mycenas, which, in its diminutive size has marvelous elegance and fragility. There is also the M. cyanocephala, which stands out with its beautiful blue color and the M. chusqueophyla with its intense yellow color. There are just so many species that appear in forests and meadows, some of which have been scientifically catalogued while others remain total enigmas. Only around 70,000 species have been identified altogether, with conservative estimates suggesting that there could exist a total of at least 1.5 million species, a number exceeded only by insects.
Cortinarius magellanicusCortinarius magellanicus
The Aysén region is privileged too because of its forests, especially those with Nothofagus (ñire, lenga, coigue) species. In these forests, some fungus species have a close symbiotic and mutual relationship between the roots of terrestrial plants and certain fungi of the soil called mycorhizzae. Their existence has been known since 1885, but they were considered exceptional curiosities. Today, it is believed that more than 97 percent of terrestrial vegetative species are mycorhizzae.
In these forests there is also an endemic species, only found in Aysen, called the Clovobricea chilensis. This species was first identified in 2007 by Chilean mycologist Pablo Sandoval Leiva. This species is small, with colors that stand out, and up to now it has not been found anywhere else.
From a gastronomic perspective, particularly noteworthy species include the morilla (of the Morchella genus), which even has a festival named after it that is celebrated every year in the town of Villa Ortega, located just outside of Coyhaique. However, this species is not alone, as other fascinating species appear in the autumn and spring seasons such as Grifola gargal or simply “Gargal,” which is edible and has an excellent flavor with a smell of almonds. There’s also Pleorotus ostreatus or oyster mushroom; Agaricus arvensis or A. campestris, also known as field mushrooms; Fistulina antárctica or cow’s tongue; and Cyttarias, known locally as digueñes or llao llao, amongst other names. Indeed, the kingdom Fungi is a wondrous feature to view and consume as all the aforementioned species grow in the wild in the Aysén region.