How to find truffles in California (San Jose)

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Sat Aug 10 22:55:30 EST 2002

>From NATS Current News, 7:5, Oct-Nov, 1990

by Harold E Parks

The following excerpts are taken from an article written by H.E. Parks
and originally published in MYCOLOGIA, Vol XVIII No. 6, November 1921.
Dr Parks was a noted mycologist associated with the Dept of Botany, U
of California at Berkeley.

	The hypogaeous fungi of America form a large, important and little
known group... In California there has been some definite attempt at
extensive collection and study of these many different species... With
all due allowances for seasonal differences, it is hoped that the
following account will be of value to other collectors.
	The collection of the hypogaeous fungi of the Santa Cruz Mountains of
California, is based upon a deliberate, carefully planned and
systematic search. The writer has now the experience of six seasonsу
intensive exploration of the mountains adjacent to San Jose. It is a
deliberate search that few would persist in season after season over
the same ground, yet it becomes a most fascinating game at which to
	The work begins with the coming of the fall rains and continues all
through the winter months and up to the beginning of summer, when the
ground becomes too dry for any fungus growths. If the ground is
thoroughly covered, it frequently means the crawling into wet thickets
on hands and knees and includes all the brambles, briars, poison oak
and wood ticks that go along with such experiences. Sometimes the
rewards from a mycological standpoint are well worth the effort. The
most productive season comes in the warm spring months if there has
been a fair amount of rain. In some seasons there is little to be
found owing to drought. Even if a goodly amount of rain has fallen and
a sudden, protracted hot spell follows, the fungi will quickly
	Adjacent to San Jose there are ideally wooded hills of mixed oaks
both in dense forest and in open scattered groups, and in other places
not too far away there are fine forests of conifers and other trees
which give the greatest variety of country and timber to work over.
This district has been the scene of operations for the last six years.
And even when one knows the ground thoroughly, it is surprising how
little of it may be covered on a day of good collecting. Frequently
two or three hours will be spent in working over the ground under a
single large oak, and on several occasions an entire afternoon has
been spent in one place. The collector may pass rapidly from one place
to another, as experience shows the ground to be barren, but though a
place is barren one day, it may within a week or so be producing an
abundance of fungi.
	The equipment of the truffle hunter is important. I use a wheel on
many trips, as the roads are excellent and the stops are very frequent
in some places. It is easily hidden in the brush when I leave the
roadways and take to the high hills, and it makes accessible places
otherwise out of oneуs reach. To the wheel is strapped a small
combination rake and hoe with a four-foot handle. This implement is
very usefuly in climbing, raking and digging and furnishes good
protection in a snake country, as I well know. A short-handled hoe
useful for work in thick brush, a trowel, knife, tweezers, lens,
kodak, plenty of newspapers and a large number of small pasteboard
cartridge boxes obtained at a shooting gallery. These small boxes are
very useful in handling the many small specimens or single individual
specimens, while large collections are wrapped in paper. Lunch and
thermos bottle complete the outfit, and all are packed compactly in
the large canvas bags used by newsboys. These bags ride comfortably
with a large load evenly distributed over the shoulders.
	In the earlier parts of the season the edges of the forests and the
small groups of trees are usually the best places for operations,
although frequently the dense forest will yield good specimens. Late
in the season the best places are to be found deep in the forest,
where the ground retains more moisture. When the collector finds a
favorable place for operations the rake comes into use and a small
area is raked free of leaves and humus. Watch must be kept in the
leaves for certain species of Hymenogaster and of Melanogaster are to
be expected and occur frequently. These are dark-colored species and
are easily missed. Other species will appear entirely exposed on the
surface of the earth and some will be just beneath the surface and out
of sight. Excavation may be continued to a depth of a foot, at which
depth most species will cease to be found. Care should be taken at all
stages, especially near the surface, to avoid injury to specimens, but
they will often be injured in spite of it, and many of the
dark-colored species will require very careful search and sifting of
the soil. The rewards are more often blistered hands and an aching
back than truffles, but there are also some intensely exciting
moments. (All avid trufflers can related to this last statement! Ed.)

Thank you to Nancy S Weber for donating this article to the NATS
library. It may be checked out by any interested member.

Comment by poster: Many people have told me truffles cannot be found
in California. I hope this article, from 80 years ago, disproves that
once and for all. BTW, David Aurora told me that his double-handful of
truffles originated from a single tanoak tree. This photograph is one
of the prominent color photos in Mushrooms Demystified. Even today,
this work remains one of the best available references for truffles
and other fungi of the Western US (as well as many other areas). I
highly recommend it.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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