Pleurotus in NZ, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  Posted on 05 April 2020  |    Hyphae  |    3 Comments

In New Zealand, we are lucky enough to have some very unique endemic edible mushrooms. From endemic Shiitake (Letinula novae-zealandiae) to endemic giant Pink oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus parsonsaie). We also have an endemic Lions mein relative called Hericium novae-zealandiae.

The problem with all three endemic mushrooms vs the imported version is: they are really the same mushroom evolving for many years on different sides of the globe. So they are only slightly different, so slight that Pleurotus parsosnsiae was first originally described as P. Djamor and only barely makes the threshold to be a different organism in the gene bank. Perhaps the most interesting development was just a couple of months ago when Dr. Jerry Cooper of Landcare found some differences with the now called (Hericium novae-zealandiae). The name was originally Coral Tooth Fungus, labeled the same name found in the USA. All the fungarium entries had to be renamed and all the observations on inaturalist. 

All of these organisms are so close to their imported relatives that it is extremely likely that they could cross creating hybrids that are the start of the end for our endemic mushrooms. We are so secluded from the rest of the world our genetics are some of the purest in the world much like our water. That was just to explain the threats our endemic Pleurotus parsonsiae faces from commercial people growing its close relation "the pink oyster mushroom" (P. djamor). 

This post has been updated with more information and DNA results 03/03/2020

Pleurotus in NZ:

The above oyster mushrooms some are proved illegal to be grown in NZ were purchased from a local Christchurh market

The Good:

Endemic we have two, Pleurotus parsonsaie and a close relative of Pleurotus australis (Pleurotus purpureo-olivaceous).

Native we have two, Pleurotus pulmonarius (quite different from the import)  forms a distinct clade with P. ostreatus & P. eryngii. We also have a native mushroom commonly found on Kanuka called Pleurotus australis. This mushroom is also found in Australia and is called the Tee tree mushrooms there. 

Endemic means only found in NZ and native means it is found elsewhere in the world but without human intervention, it has arrived and become present in the natural environment.

We like to think we only have these four mushrooms in the natural environment of NZ.

Pleurotus parsonsaie (endemic)

Pleurotus purpureo-olivaceous (endemic) 

Pleurotus australis (native)

Pleurtous pulmonarius (native)


Now for the Bad News

The Bad:

If a mushroom was here pre "HNSO" it is legal to be here, a law made to stop any organism entering NZ after the date it was made and it also says any organisms that were already imported and present in NZ are allowed to stay.

As the pink oyster mushroom (P. djamor) had already been imported before that date it is still legal to import new cultures of it and freely grow it in NZ. 

Recently Dr. Jerry Cooper of Landcare NZ wrote: "I believe it is inter-fertile with P. parsonsiae and so there is a risk of escape and genetic pollution".

But some commercial growers just don't care about the ecology, continue to grow the pink oyster import while painting themselves as environmentally friendly.

Perhaps the most childish response came from a new grower in Christchurch going by the name of Oak and Spore. His response was to start growing both strains in the same room. If growing the pink oyster was not bad enough this could be the start to the end. When asked what he thought about genetic pollution Tom Brain of Oak and spore wrote: "that is just your marketing strategy for your new company" this is the mentality of small commercial growers who do not use filters to stop introducing billions of unwanted imported spores into the environment.

These are the risks now facing our endemic mushrooms.

The grey imported version of Pleurotus pulmonarius everyone grows could be threatening our native version. I believe our native version is like no other in the world. It has a unique flavour, texture, and smell. As they are the same strain it is just a matter of time before our native version evolves with imported genetics.

The most insane part of imported Pleurotus pulmonarius and endemic Pleurotus parsonsiae is Dr. Jerry Cooper of Landcare says "The chance of accidental hybridisation would not be zero". This means spores from both mushrooms could grow and fuse together in physics creating a totally different hybrid organism that could also end up destroying our endemic mushroom Pleurotus parsonsiae. 


The Ugly:


The DNA is back and this mushroom can now be formally called Pleurotus. Sp an undescribed new to science species and that was from a government official. 

Screenshot: Ohau Mushrooms Facebook

As we speak MPI is investigating a threat to NZ that Rochelle Alagar at The Mushroom house has gone public saying:

Screenshot: The Mushroom House facebook page

"It was taken from a market in Hamilton from a Chinese man"

Rochelle Alagar  freely admits growing it and also is on record  posting "MPI has changed the rules so the mushroom house no longer grows this mushroom"

After informing her MPI has never allowed anyone to grow undescribed species Alagar removed her comment. 

The most troubling part is Alagar admits by saying it came from a hamilton market that it came from a questionable source. Just because it is available at an Asian market seller that does not mean anyone can grow it. It amazes me such a professional company can make such careless mistakes. 

I will call this mushroom "Blue Oyster" the problem is no one knows what it is.  The people growing it think they do but two scientists I talked to say it is not what it has been labeled.

There are two possibilities here:

1. If it really came from a Chinese man, if so it is very possible it is an undescribed species from Asia. Not the same strain labeled "Blue Oyster in USA" 

2. If it was not taken from a China shop but it was smuggled into the country. This would be the case if the DNA came back as Pleurotus ostreatus var. columbinus or at least what companies like Fungi perfecti are selling a blue mushroom as.

It is labeled as a Pleurotus ostreatus strain but here is what one EU genetic company is saying: 

"However Pleurotus ostreatus var. columbinus is sufficiently different that it can either be considered a variation of P. ostreatus, or a separate species, depending on what definition you have for a species, and what you use to test for differences between species. It can certainly interbreed with P. ostreatus, which is why historically it has often been considered as a P. ostreatus subspecies. However papers from 1994 and onward based on molecular studies suggest that there is enough difference from other P. ostreatus strains that it can be considered another species.
Since the MPI lab in Auckland decides based on molecular evidence, there is a good chance that it would not be sufficiently similar to their P. ostreatus standard for it to enter NZ as an P. ostreatus strain."

I asked Dr. Jerry Cooper of Landcare NZ if this was true and he replied:

"Yes, I agree.
My point above was about strains that are misidentified/mislabelled as P. columbinus when they may actually represent another species. For example, there are at least two species labeled P. columbinus with sequences in GenBank and it is uncertain which, if any, represent the 'real' P. columbinus. The name is old and it has not been epitypified, unlike P. ostreatus. However, if entry is based on sequence data and some generally accepted threshold of degree of similarity to verified sequences of P. ostreatus then that is irrelevant. And that is what they say above".

Screenshot: Oak & Spore Facebook

While most growers were just growing the mushrooms most alarmingly Sporeshift mushrooms sold grain spawn labeled "Blue Oyster" for people to grow all over NZ.


This means that MPI would most likely refuse it entry into NZ. There is also a rumor that two containers containing Chinese ready to fruit mushroom blocks were sent back to China and refused entry into NZ. 

Quite a few growers have destroyed everything in the fear of being raided by MPI and exposed for growing a mushroom that was illegal in NZ. All except one grower that I know of (Oak and Spore) who proudly till this days has YouTube videos of growing it.



The wild card:

Recently Pleurotus ostreatus had its status changed to present by Medow mushrooms. They proved to the EPA that the mushroom had already been grown in New Zealand and there was a record of one appearing on a log in Levin. They provided enough evidence to flip the status of the mushroom to "present". This means people are able to import pure strains of the original mushroom described in Tennessee.

I asked Dr. Jerry Cooper if this mushroom could threaten any of our endemic or native mushrooms in NZ. Quickly he replied with "NO" 

Now don't get me wrong here but if the commercial growers are growing three mushrooms that have the ability to genetically pollute our endemic and native species then why are they not growing this one. The bad side would be the native fauna would have a new mushroom but it only grows on dead wood. So it would actually not threaten anything. My opinion is pointing towards Medow mushrooms may have just helped me save our mushrooms. 


UPDATE: 31/05/2020

Rochelle Alagar The Mushroom House 

Since posting this Rochelle Alagar from the Mushroom House has tried to lay a complaint to the police for harassment after I asked for people to film her for a documentary I am making. The police officer called me on my cell phone and from what I told him he confirmed that Alagar was wasting their time as there was no harassment or anything that the police could do.

This did not stop Alagar after this she contacted Net Safe about this post.  I received a Facebook message stating Alagar had made a complaint. 

Tom Brain Oak and Spore.

Today I received a DMCA takedown notice from google about the Images appearing on this post. DMCA is not legal in NZ as we have our own laws called the fair dealings law. However, Tom Brain used an overseas online safe company to issue the DMCA takedown. This would not stand in NZ courts. A counterclaim from My lawyer was sent to google and if accepted it could open the door for legal action. As the DCMA takedown was not legal in NZ and I had to pay a lawyer to get it reversed. If Tom Brain will now have to take a high court order out to get the images removed. But that would be highly unlikely as he would need court papers to prove it and only be from Google search. This could also be seen by the court as an abuse of copyright law and that is actually a crime worldwide. It is illegal to make false copyright claims. There are revisions in NZ law that allow the use of content under the Fair dealings law. This is how media companies report and that is what the post is about education and reporting. 

More to come...


List of Pleurotus present in NZ

Pleurotus parsonsaie (endemic)

Pleurotus purpureo-olivaceous (endemic) 

Pleurotus australis (native)

Pleurotus pulmonarius (native)

Pleurotus pulmonarius (import) common grey cultivated oyster

Pleurotus djamor (import) common pink cultivated oyster

Pleurotus ostreatus (not sure a pure strain has been imported yet)

Pluerotus (Blue Oyster) DNA Back undescribed new to science species 


If you would like a more scientific approach to Pleurotus in NZ please read Dr. Jerry Cooper of Landcare NZ's notes on it here: