New Zealand Lions Mane - The Truth

New Zealand Lions Mane - The Truth

New Zealand Lions mane, which should really be called NZ Coral tooth, growing in the fruiting room of the first Oak and Spore farm. 

Growing Lions Mane in New Zealand

Growing mushrooms in New Zealand (NZ) can be an exciting and rewarding way to create your own wholesome food from your own garden, garage, or kitchen counter. But it might not be quite as easy as your think. It's not that the process of growing the mushrooms is challenging (sometimes it is, but that's a story for later) it's that we don't really have a large selection of edible mushrooms we are able to grow!

I get asked almost every week, "Do you have Lions Mane?" (Hericium erinaceus) and I always answer - No - but, we do have something that's often called NZ Lions mane...

While countries like the Unites Starts have an abundance of different mushroom species able to be cultivated, NZ has a somewhat smaller selection. Quite possibly the smallest selection in the world. Even with the hard hand being dealt to the local growers, the industry is still alive and vibrant, with small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs making their mark on different parts of the industry.

The challenge for New Zealand Mushroom Growers

New Zealand is geographically isolated. Isolated enough that our flora and fauna have had a very long time to evolve into something unique. to protect this uniqueness, the NZ government brought into force the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, or the HSNO Act for short. The HSNO Act set a series of boundaries on what's an acceptable species in NZ, and what's not. This act is designed to protect the native flora and fauna of NZ, to ensure nothing in introduced into NZ that could potentially harm the native ecosystem. But how does the HSNO Act stop small mushroom farmers doing their thing? Let's take a look at a piece from inside the Act. 

2A Meaning of term new organism

(1)A new organism is—

(a)an organism belonging to a species that was not present in New Zealand immediately before 29 July 1998:

As you can see from above, and organism which wasn't here prior to 1998, is deemed a new organism. If it's a new organism, you cannot import or grow it without an approval process conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. For the true Lions mane to be grown in NZ, there would need to be evidence it existed here prior to 1996, which at the time of writing this article I am unaware any evidence exists. Because of this piece of legislation, it means that true Lions Mane can never be imported into NZ, and therefore, never grown in NZ. 

What that does mean is that the few types of mushroom which had already been imported into NZ prior to 1996, the Italian Oyster and the Pink Oyster, where able to stay in the country. And lucky for us, these are some of the species primarily produces by small scale growers here. 

Knowing now that Lions mane most likely wasn't in NZ prior to 1996, and that it's unable to be imported due to the HASO Act, you will understand why you never see fresh Lions mane for sale anywhere. New Zealand does have a dirty little secret though, because of the popularity of Lions mane, people have taken to calling one of our native mushrooms NZ Lions mane.

The story of Pekepeke Kiore

Pekepeke kiore (also know as Coral tooth, also known as Hericium coralloides, also known as Hericium novae-zealandiae) is an endemic species found in our native forests. It is a slower growing mushroom, they needs to be grown under high humidity at all times, otherwise its tendrils dry out. I believe this species was thought to be identical to Hericium coralloides found overseas, which is also named Coral Tooth. But under further genetic testing, was found to be it's own species, or Hericium novae-zealandiae. You can see evidence of this on the Landcare Research database entries linked at the bottom.

This species has becomes know locally as the New Zealand Lions mane. In reality, it should be called the NZ Coral tooth. I believe the reason it's not, (it's the same reason we called the Phoenix oyster the Italian oyster here at our farm) is that NZ Lions mane simply sounds better than NZ Coral tooth. 

Additionally, I have never seen any evidence our Hericium novae-zelandiae contains the same compounds that make Hericium erinaceus such a powerful medicinal fungi. It's safe to assume it doesn't, until proven otherwise. 

The long and short

So to get to the bottom of it all. New Zealand doesn't have the true Lions mane species, and in all likely-hood will never have the true Lions mane, but we have what people though was Coral tooth, but isn't really Coral tooth, but people call it NZ Lions mane, when it should be called NZ Coral tooth...

Or Just Pekepeke will do.

close up of nz lions mane or hericium novae-zelandiae

Hericium coralloides - NOTE under comments for this entry it states "Records under this name refer to Hericium novae-zelanadiae or an undescribed species in the H. erinaceus complex [JAC]"

Hericium novae-zealandiae

You can see an old entry in the  Te Ara - Encyclopedia of New Zealand where it has it's incorrect classification as Hericium Coralloides