While our Festival celebrates the local ‘farmed’ French or Perigord black truffle for its culinary qualities, the growers have an interest that’s also botannical. Each season they’re nurturing the conditions for the special relationship between the truffles and their host trees, usually oaks and hazelnuts. The truffles depend on their attachment by fine filaments to the tree roots to draw sugars from the tree to grow. In return they pass back nutrients and water that the larger tree roots can’t draw from the soil. Let’s face it, if you’re going to live underground, it helps to have access to something that can photosynthesize when you can’t.
This relationship also happens in our native forests with native truffles, and it is now recognised as being an absolutely essential requirement for the health of our bushlands. If you’re a bush walker, or just take a short cut through the scrub to get to the bus, you’ll probably step on hundreds of them and never know. Australia is home to an estimated 1,500 species of truffles and they occur wherever eucalypts, tea trees, melaleucas, angophoras, or casuarinas grow.
Some species occur in wet forests, others only in dry woodlands, some even fruit in the outback deserts, where traditionally they have been used as food (in hard times) by Aborigines. While they don’t provide a desirable ‘bush tucker’ for us, they’re particularly attractive to brushtail and ringtail possums, gliders, bettongs, potoroos, bandicoots, antechinus, wallabys, bush and swamp rats. A bettong for example can conduct up to 100 truffle digs every twenty four hours. In our Mulligan’s Flat Reserve there is an estimated 85 to 100 species with an amazing variety of shapes and colours.
One of the annual events at the Truffle Festival is a lecture and bush hunt from two of the world’s top scientific authorities on native truffles, and the creatures who eat them. And it’s happening again next weekend Saturday 21 July, starting at 10.00am. Jim Trappe (scientist emeritus at the U.S. Forest Service and a professor of forest science at Oregon State University) and Andrew Claridge (Office of Environment and Heritage · NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service ) will give a talk at the National Botanic Gardens theaterette and then we meet up at Mulligans Flat in Forde where Jim and Andrew will walk us through the bush and show us how to find native truffles.
The details are on the Truffle Festival website. The cost is a gold (or a coppery coloured) coin donation and children are welcome if they’re able to sit patiently through the lecture. It should all be finished in time for you to head off to a much more tasty French black truffle lunch at one of our local restuarants.
There’s a very approachable Scientic American story ( here as a PDF ) about Jim and Andrew’s work.