Toadstool suspected to kill precious wood searchers

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A police investigation has been launched in Quang Nam Province after rumors that rare wood prospectors perished on Sunday. Locals claim the deaths were due to a poisonous mushroom.

Truong Van Dung, a local police officer, said they have been informed of the missing from Dai Quang and Dai Nghia Communes.

A head count of the remaining residents is underway to determine who left home on a search for the precious Agarwood.

Dung said more than 500 people left Dai Quang Commune to hunt for the wood in Khanh Hoa, Kon Tum and Gia Lai Provinces. A group of 11 have failed to contact their families for at least 20 days.

Local resident Nguyen Thi Xuan said another timber harvester from the commune had called home saying he had discovered seven harvesters lying dead in their hammocks, Xuan was cited by local news website VietNamNet Tuesday.

Early this month, a group of timber harvesters from Quang Nam netted VND30 billion (US$1.54 million) from the sale of a few kilograms of Agarwood--a commodity which forms during a parasitic fungal attack on several sub-species of Aquilaria trees.

Thousands of people from the province were excited by the news creating a miniature rush on the wood.

The aromatic resin has become increasingly rare.

It may take years for Agarwood to form in an infected Aquilaria tree, making commercial cultivation extremely difficult.

A kilogram of wild agarwood is estimated to sell for more than $10,000.

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