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Studying Cordyceps in Bhutan
Collection of cordyceps depending on weather conditions
Collection of cordyceps, used as an ingredient in traditional medicine, cannot be fixed for a particular season but will vary from year to year depending on weather conditions, according to a team of experts that recently visited the cordyceps growing sites in Lingzhi.
Addressing the officials of the agriculture ministry, a biotech researcher from Thailand, Dr. Nigel Hywel-Jones, said that temperature was the most important criteria in development of the upper fungus part of cordyceps.

If winters are colder and longer than usual then the development of the fungus is affected, he said. "Since there is no metabolic activity when temperature is very low the fungus hibernate and doesn't grow," said a plant expert.

Apart from elevation and temperature, the time during which the cordyceps are collected affects the quality of the cordyceps, according to Dr. Nigel Hywel-Jones. "Immature cordyceps are rated the most excellent, while maturing and matured cordyceps are rated barely acceptable and poor in quality," said Dr. Nigel Hywel-Jones.

Starting 2002 the research project funded by Darwin initiative, UK, is trying to study the life cycle of the cordycep larvae for sustainable management of the cordyceps.

A plant advisor from Renewable Natural Resources Center, Tshitila tsiad that Bhutan lacked scientific knowledge and data on the cordycep. "The right extraction rate, right collection time and right post harvest methods must be known for a sustainable harvest," he said.

Cordyceps Sinensis
There are 400 species in the genus Cordyceps. Very few of these During the visit to Lingzhi, live caterpillar were collected some of which will be taken to the UK for research and some left in the research center in Yusipang, to identify the host species of cordycep sinensis and also to identify the host plants of the caterpillars in Bhutan. About four different species of plants suspected of being the host plant for the caterpillars were noted during the visit.

"The plants will be planted in the herb garden in Yusipang and Lingzhi for further research," said RNR officials.

The research, RNR officials said, was a step towards sustainable management of cordyceps through rearing of the species which according to experts was a hard and long process.

Farmers could also benefit from the research. Officials said that if cordyceps harvesting was made feasible farmers could earn cash income.

Meanwhile the agriculture ministry, to reduce the impact on the wild plant, limited the collection period to June and also restricted the number of permits to a maximum of two in some cordyceps harvesting villages and one in other villages.

While the team could not exactly say whether cordyceps were being collected indiscriminately, they observed that the density of the cordyceps growth were about 5 per square meter which was more compared to other neighbouring countries of similar altitude having one cordyceps per square meter.

The collectors had also informed the team that the growth of cordyceps fluctuated from year to year. Extinction of the species was, however, near impossible experts said. "Even though the cordyceps are collected in huge numbers there are always some undetected cordyceps in pocket areas that would disperse thousands of spores," said Tshitila adding that the number of growth for the next season, however, would be affected.

This article was contributed by Kinley Wangmo, Kuensel, 2005

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