Fungi seems to be back in vogue, featuring on Netflix, RNZ, in an audio book I recently listened to, and even in a conversation with my son. Maybe I have become more aware of the weird and wonderful world of decomposers and consequently, I am tuning into fungi facts when they pop up in my digital sphere. My mouldering interest was fostered further during a pre-lockdown walk to Tokatu Point on a damp Sunday. The objective was to get some physical exercise, but this soon changed when I decided that exercising my observational skills would be another rewarding element of a winter wander.

The first fungi that captured my attention were small orange-brown mushrooms, only about the size of my little finger-nail. They thrived beside the track in damp kānuka and mānuka leaf litter, and online research revealed they are probably the type of mushrooms I shouldn’t be writing about, so I won’t.

Larger white mushrooms with white gills that looked like they could kill me, begged the question about the difference between toadstools and mushrooms. Apparently, fungi scientists don’t see any difference and they are all mushrooms, however in common language laypeople refer to toxic mushrooms as toadstools.

Fungi are everywhere and like pest plants and animals, they turn up in ecosystems causing unexpected problems, for example myrtle rust that blew here from Australia. Reproducing by spreading a network of tube-like hyphae (mycelium) or as unicellular budding cells (yeasts), makes fungi super-spreaders, doing good work when they are in the correct place.
At Tāwharanui I saw impressive Ganoderma sp. doing its important task of decomposing dead wood but also thriving as a parasite on living trees. It was possibly Australoporus tasmanicus living on a machined log that is a makeshift seat near the boot washing station and cute Copeinellus disseminatus that popped up in gravel and clay used for a new track structure. I discovered Ileodictyon cibarium (basket fungus), which is reported to be foul smelling, but I didn’t notice anything offensive. Maybe it was too old. Māori have 35 different names for this fungus with perhaps the best being tutae kehua (ghost droppings).

Ileodictyon cibarium fungi

All fungi break down matter and release nutrients that feed plants. The role played by fungi in creating an environment where the native bush can regenerate is undoubtedly immense, and yet we know so little about the

After a captivating glimpse of Tāwharanui fungi, I’m determined to pay more attention to the characteristics of the caps, gills, stems, shapes, sizes and hosts, to identify what we have at the Sanctuary. I think I’m hooked but only in a non-substance-induced mind-blowing way.

Jackie Russell

Categories: Fungi