Two new truffle species discovered in Florida pecan orchards

August 23, 2018, Florida Museum of Natural History
The Tuber brennemanii specimen on the left shows the rough, knobby exterior of the mushroom while the halved specimen on the right shows the interior. Credit: Rosanne Healy

Two new species of truffles were recently discovered on the roots of pecan trees in Florida orchards. The good news is that you can eat them—the bad news is that you wouldn't want to.

While Tuber brennemanii and Tuber floridanum are edible "true" truffles, in the same genus as the fragrant underground mushrooms prized by chefs, their unappealing odor and small size—about 1 inch wide—will likely discourage people from eating them, said Matthew Smith, an associate professor in the University of Florida department of plant pathology and an affiliate associate curator in the Florida Museum of Natural History Herbarium.

"At least one of the was pretty stinky and not in a good way, so you wouldn't necessarily want to eat it," Smith said. "These guys are small, and they don't have these really great odors, but the animals love them."

Smith and his team were studying truffles when they found the .

"One of the things we wanted to do is identify the communities we find in these pecan orchards because those are the things that are going to be there naturally and those are the ones that are going to be in direct competition with the species we're interested in trying to grow," he said.

Arthur Grupe, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in UF's department of , said the team is researching another, more common pecan , Tuber lyonii, potentially an important economic crop in Florida.

Valued for their pleasant aroma and taste, pecan truffles sell for $160 to $300 per pound. Pecan orchards with a high density of pecan truffles might increase farmers' per acre profit by up to 20 percent, Grupe said.

This Tuber floridanum, halved to show the interior, was found in a commercial pecan orchard in Cachoeira do Sul in southern Brazil. Credit: Marcelo Sulzbacher

Even though the two new truffle species might lack the appetizing qualities of more commonly known truffle species, Smith said their discovery is important and points to the significance of conservation, especially in forest habitats. "Just because you don't see diversity easily doesn't mean that it's not there," Smith said. "I guess to me it speaks to the fact that there's really a lot we don't know about the natural world, and it's worth preserving so we can try to understand it."

Smith said the newly described truffle species had likely gone undetected because animals—such as squirrels, wild pigs and other small mammals—were eating them or because they occur earlier in the year than pecan truffles.

The researchers plan to study the new species to learn more about their relationship to pecan truffles and how they compete with other truffle species for resources.

"So far, we have found these truffles mostly in Florida and Georgia," Grupe said. "Interestingly, a collaborator in Brazil found one of these species in a pecan orchard. We suspect that it hitched a ride on pecan seedlings shipped from the U.S. I think it is a great example of hidden biodiversity."

Smith said people tend to be more afraid of mushrooms than curious and don't take the time to learn about them—even though new species are right under our feet.

"Fungi are understudied in general, and things that fruit below ground that are hard to see are even more understudied," Smith said. "It's interesting to know these things are out there. You're walking on them all the time and they still don't have a name—no one has formally recognized them before. I think that's kind of cool."

The researchers published their findings in the journal Mycologia.

Explore further: Sniffing out real truffles

More information: Arthur C. Grupe et al, Tuber brennemanii and Tuber floridanum: Two new Tuber species are among the most commonly detected ectomycorrhizal taxa within commercial pecan (Carya illinoinensis) orchards, Mycologia (2018). DOI: 10.1080/00275514.2018.1490121

Related Stories

Sniffing out real truffles

May 30, 2018

At a cost of thousands of dollars per pound, truffles are an expensive food. The fungi are prized for their distinctive aroma, and many foods claim truffles or their aromas as ingredients. But some of these foods may actually ...

New species of truffle found in Finland

May 16, 2013

A species of truffle that is considered to be rare has been found for the first time in Finland. Previously it has been thought to exist only in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The truffle was found in ...

Recommended for you

Rice plants that grow as clones from seed

December 12, 2018

Plant biologists at the University of California, Davis have discovered a way to make crop plants replicate through seeds as clones. The discovery, long sought by plant breeders and geneticists, could make it easier to propagate ...

Researchers find positive visual contagion in Barbary macaques

December 12, 2018

A pair of researchers at the University of Roehampton has found that captive Barbary macaques are capable of engaging in positive visual contagion—a behavior normally only seen in humans. In their paper published in Proceedings ...

Tiny tech tracks hummingbirds at urban feeders

December 12, 2018

Beep" is not a sound you expect to hear coming from a hummingbird feeder. Yet "beeps" abounded during a study led by the University of California, Davis to monitor hummingbirds around urban feeders and help answer questions ...

The real history of quantum biology

December 12, 2018

Quantum biology, a young and increasingly popular science genre, isn't as new as many believe, with a complicated and somewhat dark history, explain the founders of the world's first quantum biology doctoral training centre.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.