New psychoactive mushroom species discovered in Southern Africa

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Two new species of mushrooms in the genus Psilocybe have been discovered in Southern Africa, bringing the list to six known species indigenous to Africa.

Psilocybe species are among the most well-known and studied species of psychoactive mushrooms in the world, with approximately 140 described species.

In a paper published in the journal Mycologia this week, researchers from Stellenbosch University (SU) and citizen mycologists identified the two new species as Psilocybe ingeli and Psilocybe maluti.

Psilocybe ingeli was first found in 2023 growing in pastureland in KwaZulu-Natal by Talan Moult, a self-taught citizen mycologist.  Psilocybe maluti was first found on a Free State smallholding in 2021 by Daniella Mulder. She sent photographs of the mushrooms to Andrew Killian, one of South Africa’s leading citizen mycologists based in Somerset West, for identification.

The unusual-looking specimens were sent to Breyten van der Merwe for DNA sequencing. He analysed the specimens in the laboratory of prof Karin Jacobs in SU’s Department of Microbiology. Van der Merwe, now a postgraduate student in chemical engineering at SU, is a trained mycologist and the first author of the paper.

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Traditional uses

The paper contains information on the traditional use of P. maluti by Basotho traditional healers from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. According to the researchers, this appears to be the only recorded first-hand report of hallucinogenic mushrooms being used traditionally in Africa.

Cullen Taylor Clark, a citizen mycologist and co-author, worked with Mamosebetsi Sethathi, a Mosotho traditional healer, to document the use of P. maluti (locally known as koae-ea-lekhoaba) in traditional healing practices. This forms part of a larger effort, led by Clark, to document the use of mushrooms by indigenous groups in Southern Africa.

Van der Merwe says there are very likely more southern African species in this genus, and that more citizen scientists need to become involved: “These two species were sent to me by citizen scientists. It would be impossible for a single researcher to cover a fraction of an area these mushroom enthusiasts have access to. This is the only way we will be able to further studies in African mycology.”

Jacobs echoes this sentiment: “There are only a handful of mycologists in Africa documenting local biodiversity. Considering the vast mycological diversity on the continent, it is a daunting task. Collaborating with citizen mycologists is therefore hugely beneficial. In addition to more material, collaboration also opens avenues for conservation and exploration, which can lead to documenting mycophilia (the love of mushrooms) on the African continent.” – Stellenbosch University

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