Yes, I confess, I’m a Fungi Junkie! Now before you have visions of me smoking, eating or making weird concoctions from our rainforest fungi, I wish to just clarify my meaning of ‘junkie’. Put simply, it just means I’m hooked on fungi. Though I do confess, I have eaten fresh field mushrooms. Yes, they’re a fungi. But, if I see fungi, I’m the type who has to study it, make notes about it, both mental or with pen and paper. Though that truly depends as to whether I have pen and paper with me, or just my brain!
Ramblings of a Fungi Junkie
I then photograph it from every angle, even if it means lying on a wet, cold rainforest floor in the middle of winter. Anything to get a good shot. Then as soon as I get home, the photos are downloaded onto my computer, notes all ready, webpages opened and the reference books come out. Part of the thrill of being a Fungi Junkie is in being able to identify those shots I have captured. Part of the problem though, is in the fact that Tasmania has so many unidentified varieties of macrofungi (as opposed to microfungi, mould and mildew, the type that grows in your bathroom etc), which makes it impossible to name them all.
A Love of the Outdoors
Growing up in Tasmania, plus my love of the outdoors has always given me opportunities to experience and explore nature; and all my life I’ve had a fascination for the details of fungi. Memories of autumn days trudging through damp fields with my father, bucket in one hand and knife in the other as we searched for field mushrooms. Then with buckets full we’d return home where my mother would proceed to peel the soft skin from the fleshy top, ready to place them in waiting hot pan, a knob of butter, pepper and salt and all too soon the house would be filled with the aroma of fresh field mushrooms cooking!
Time to get Serious
Tasmania is a paradise for fungi. One can wander through our fields, forests, or around our lakes at any time of the year and see fungi growing somewhere (though the best time to witness the magic of this unique creation is during the autumn or winter months). Now I hear you ask, “Why does she call it a unique creation? Well, fungi IS a unique creation.
Virtually overnight, these unique pieces of vegetation seem to appear as though from nowhere, just popping up in grasslands and forest floors. From rotting fallen trees… or if you look up towards the treetops you’ll even see them growing out from thick sturdy trunks. Every colour conceivable can be found: reds, whites, yellows, browns. Even purples and blues. Many different shapes and sizes, and in total there are estimated to be well over 5000 species alone in our rainforests.
Fungi is NOT a Plant
The uniqueness of fungi does not stop there though. Fungi DO NOT belong in the kingdom of plants, they have a kingdom all their own. Unlike plants, fungi do not possess chlorophyll, therefore they do not need sunlight to grow. They do not produce their own food, so are ‘scavengers’ or ‘parasites’ absorbing their nourishment from the substrate in which they grow. When the ‘fruit body’ (that part which we see), is mature, fungus spores are released and dispersed by many sources (the wind, water, animals, people etc), providing the fungus with a way to spread and form new colonies.
The ‘fruit body’, that ‘toadstool’ or ‘mushroom’ we see is only a small portion of around 25% of the fungus. The unseen, or main part of the fungus, is made up of microscopic threads called ‘hyphae’, which weave their way through the soil, wood or other substrate which provides their nourishment. It is these unseen, creeping microscopic threads that are the main recycling agents of our rainforests, busily decomposing dead plant material and returning nutrients to the soil. When conditions are favourable, a single mass of hyphae (a mycelium) may send out a reproductive organ, which is the fungus fruiting body that we see and admire.
Wander with the Fungus
So, in our unique Tasmanian rainforests, fungi are a very vital part of the sensitive ecosystem. Autumn and winter are the best times to visit areas such as The Tarkine, Mt. Field National Park, the West Coast State Forest Reserves and Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park (to name but a few), to see the varied and wondrous forms of fungi that are so unique to our state of Tasmania. Take the time to wander through our forests looking for fungi (be warned, you may well become a Fungi Junkie like me), and you will find that fungi grows in many forms, not just those that look like toadstools.
Here in Tasmania we have Coral Fungi, Jelly Fungi, Puffballs, Earthstars, Paint Fungi and even Truffle Fungi, (which grows entirely underground) and many, many more varieties. If you do happen to come across a Faerie Ring though, or better still perchance upon the Faeries themselves, then all I ask is: shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone please. Some secrets here in Tasmania we need to keep to ourselves!
Note: Please DO NOT pick the fungi in our forests. Our fragile ecosystem needs them! Although some fungi are edible, many fungi can be poisonous. Some are known hallucinogens, a couple are even deadly. So please, unless you know your fungi, leave them where they grow.