The Cape Aflame Project Team

Tony Rebelo’s Magic Mushroom Lovechild

Morel mushrooms return to Cape Town in wake of March 2015 Muizenberg Firefire
Photo: Michael Hodge – Flickr Creative Commons

“South Africa’s rarest edible mushroom has been spotted on the Cape Peninsula twice in the last two weeks – and its comeback is apparently a result of the regenerating effects of the wildfires that swept through the fynbos in March.”

“Fynbos ecologist Tony Rebelo said that before the recent finds, this morel mushroom had been seen on the peninsula only about twice in the last 10 years. ‘So it’s not just the plants that are responding to the fire, it’s the fungus too,’ Rebelo said.

“On a website called Mush Love: tales from a mushroom forager, the unidentified writer said he or she had discovered two groups of ‘elusive’ morels, one of 12 and another of 50. The taste of the mushroom was likened to ‘the lovechild of steak and hazelnut’ – and the writer kept the locations a secret.

“However, Rebelo said one lot was spotted above Noordhoek and the other above St James.

“Fynbos has evolved to be dependent on fire to regenerate. Rebelo said some plants, such as the fire daisies, fire lilies and fire orchids, were seen for just one or two years after fire and then disappeared.

“‘A lot has come back, but the big displays we are likely to see next spring.’

“Carly Cowell, SANParks regional ecologist, said yesterday many orchids and bulbs had re-emerged. ‘We saw them after the fires of 2000 as well. Most of the fynbos has come back and millions of protea seedlings have come up.’

“Cowell said fire formed part of the proteas’ population dynamics in that it allowed proteas to spread. ‘The fire comes through, the cones open and the seeds are released in the wind which takes them away – perhaps only 1m, or 10m. In plants this is the mechanism of moving populations and spreading genes.’

“Another benefit of the March fires was that ecologists were able to see a large number of tiny pockets of water during winter, habitats for frogs. ‘And the frogs are doing fine. They’re all there,’ Cowell said.

“Sunbirds and sugarbirds have not been seen in any numbers in the burnt areas, and have moved into the suburbs to feed.

“On Monday, about 50 staff from SANParks and Working on Fire were fighting a lightning fire in the Klawer Valley above Simon’s Town.

“Philip Prins, fire manager for Table Mountain National Park, said the fire was creeping down steep krantzes which made it difficult to fight. However, no infrastructure had been damaged and none was threatened.

“‘Without a helicopter, it is difficult to fight. We don’t want to put people down there because the wind is so strong it can blow them off their feet,’ Prins said.

“The fire had burnt about six to eight hectares.

“Prins said in terms of SANParks’ contract with Working on Fire, the helicopters were available from mid-November for the dry Cape summer. The helicopters were now working up country in the summer rainfall region, which had a fire season in winter and spring.”

Melanie Gosling for IOL, 15 September 2015

Meet everybody’s favourite uncle, restoration ecologist Dr Tony Rebelo, SANParks’ regional ecologist Carly Cowell, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) Fire Manager Philip Prins, Independent Newspapers’ reporter Melanie Gosling (who, with the likes of Aly Verbaan and Karen Watkins of the Constantiaberg Bulletin, offers convincing proof newspapers might halt their slide to oblivion by hiring experienced, on-the-ground reporters) and a cast of thousands in The Cape Aflame – Cape Town’s Dance with Fire, now available at

Cape Town’s elusive Mushroom Forager may run, but like the morels, cannot hide. View some great shots of the morels by Justin Williams at Mush Love or Instagram.