- English: velvet pioppini, poplar mushroom, black poplar mushroom, chestnut mushroom
- Scientific name: Agrocybe aegerita / Agrocybe cylindracea / Pholiota aegerita
- Chinese: 茶树菇 / 茶樹菇, 茶薪菇, 柳松菇, 油茶菇, 神菇
- Japanese: 占地 (シメジ) shimeji
Velvet pioppini is called ’Cha Shu Gu’ 茶树菇 in China, which literally translates into ’tea tree mushrooms’.
These mushrooms are spread across the temperate regions of China (notably in the region of Jiangxi and Fujian). They do not grow in the northern colder regions and do not exist at all in sub-tropical climate. They can also be found in northern Europe. In the wild, they only grow on the rotten roots of the oil-seed camellia trees (Camellia oleifera) which are unique to China.
Because oil-seed camellia trees are known as ’You Cha Shu’ 油茶树 (tea oil trees) in Chinese, these parasite mushrooms are called ’Cha Shu Gu’ 茶树菇 ’tea tree mushrooms’. Not because they grow on the tea plants from which we get tea leaves.
Why are they such a delicacy?
Wild velvet pioppini are the best.
Because oil-seed camellia trees have extremely sturdy bark and roots, the time for these to rot is long. Therefore, the germination and growth of velvet pioppini are likewise longer than other similar mushrooms.
For these to grow, you need two conditions:
First, the rainfall for the year before needs to be exceptionally more. Second, before the germination of the mushrooms in April, there needs to be a very wet spring from mid-January to March in Year Two. Only if these two conditions are met, then velvet pioppini will flourish around the rotten roots of the oil-seed camellia trees. Regenerated forests of oil-seed camellia trees also produce more mushrooms then untouched forests. The longer the growth period, the tastier the mushrooms.
Commercially harvested velvet pioppini are sold dried.
These can be cooked in a stew, or stir-fried after being soaked in water.