Domestic Ups & Downs

Being confined to home doesn’t mean life is less interesting. You just have to look more.

Remember to go outside before dinner to see is there’s a sunset; autumn is a great time for sky spectacles!

And in the mornings, check out what the spiders have been up to overnight. This major engineering feat on my deck looked even more impressive when only half-lit; how was it hanging there?!

And look down.

Amongst the dull leaf litter this vibrant little Stinkhorn fungus ventures up to see what the weather is doing.  It’s one of the stinkhorn family and apparently smells like rotting meat or sewage.

Often found as a solitary specimen, it is Phallus rubicundus. Can’t imagine why…

And while looking down, I was surprised to see this decorative pair remaining in place like statues, sunning themselves together even as I walked past several times, quite close. 

Eastern Water Skinks, they are cherished residents here in town. Burnished bronze and gold and chocolate, with such delicate fingers and toes I fear for them — I’d like to think they know they are safe here. No need to bolt for cover when I appear…

The beautiful and the bold

I planted this lilac Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush) for obvious reasons – its flowers are beautiful and butterflies love them.

 It is attracting at least four varieties that I have seen, the most stunning being the Blue Triangle (Graphium sarpedon choredon).

One of the Swallowtail family (Papilionidae), it keeps its wings up and continually vibrates them when feeding on the flowers. This habit, plus the fact that it also flits fast and frequently from one branch of blossoms to another branch, makes it very hard to capture by photograph.

Like the White-headed Pigeons, these butterflies have adapted to favour the introduced and extremely rampant Camphor Laurel trees.

The butterflies visit singly but the fungi have not got the social distancing message yet. Dozens of tiny brown ones have boldly squeezed up in clusters this morning. I know they will turn black and ‘dissolve’ by tomorrow. 

I can relate to that: pop up, take a look at the crazy world we are in, and say ‘No thanks!’

And speaking of bold overcrowding and defiance of restrictions for their own good, those small cinnamon-dusted drumsticks of last week are now full-blown.

As they fight for space, they push into and on top of each other, breaking bits off and distorting their smooth umbrella tops.

When they too disappear, what new surprises will await me on my morning garden forays?

Rain lovers

Apart from a rare slime mould visit, other denizens of my yard are taking full advantage of the almost daily shower and the warm days.

The feral Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torreliana), an escapee from Queensland’s Atherton Tableland, has shed thousands of small seed pods. On my deck they act like lethal ball bearings underfoot.

Each contains hundreds of minute seeds, smaller than grains of sand. These blow through my fly screens and onto my desk, where they are mere nuisance and a threat to my keyboard.

But outside, on the ground, with the constant moisture, they germinate. En masse.

These join the silky oak seedlings on my list of perpetual pull-outs. I can imagine the speed at which the yard would become a forest of these two trees were I not here.

It was a very large and inappropriately self-sown silky oak that loomed over my deck and had to be cut off to a stump when I first came. 

Now its large feet/roots are home to several varieties of bright fungi.

The vegie garden and the grass are hosting less flamboyant members of the always fascinating fungi family. Every day I walk around to see what new wonders have popped up.

Slime visitors

After the long drought, we have taken on tropical storms, with rain most days. Plant growth is rampant, and the lawn mower has come out of its summer/autumn/winter retirement.

But amongst all the green I spot a flash of colour in the grass. Yellow. 

Close up, it resembles several blobs of crumbed, artificially yellow battered takeaway food! But the strands of slime give it away: the first slime mould of 2020 in my yard.

This one looks like the ’Dog’s Vomit’ slime mould. 

If you haven’t struck such an oddity before, this is one of a very strange and long misunderstood group of organisms (Fuligo). While no longer classed with fungi, they are included in my Fungi field guide (by A.M.Young).

It tells me they can produce cells that can ‘move about actively and ingest food rather like an amoeba. This cell feeds and reproduces by simple fission until there are perhaps thousands of daughter cells. A chemical signal then causes these cells to combine and form the fruiting structure…’.

I always find them slightly creepy.

My book says this one’s common name is Flowers of Tan, but Dog’s Vomit is much more apt.

Several days later the yellow has become a greyish mauve; now more likely to be mistaken for dried dog’s turds…

But it is not the only slimy visitor after the rain. In a much-horse-manured garden bed, crisp white snow crystals cluster and clump over a stem of my grapevine, again the slimy threads giving it away.

Others transform horse poo into snowballs. Or I could go with the food analogy and say powdered sugar…

An older one is already less snowy and within days they are all a less notable brown. Toasted desiccated coconut? 

No wonder I continue to be astonished at the intricacies and varieties that Nature holds, and sometimes shows, especially the ephemeral ones. I need another lifetime to discover more of them…

Communal fungi

Near my backyard tap lives a community of fungi who burst forth en masse after rain, which we have finally had.

One day they are not there, the next they are, honey brown for the moment, opening their little umbrellas.

Pushing up through soil and leaves, they surrounded and smothered the hose loops that were in the way.

Try as I might, I have not been able to identify these fungi communities which appear so briefly, always just in this spot. 

Birders often use the term ‘LBB’, ‘Little Brown Bird’ when they can’t identify one of the many such. Maybe this will remain an ‘LBF’?

The next day they are always black and collapsing. Ephemeral LBFs indeed.

Mist dwellers

Arranged like a tableau on stage, these fungi glowed at me from the gloom of the Rainforest Walk in the Australian Native Botanical Gardens in Canberra. Unsurprisingly, the climate of Canberra is not great for rainforest plants, so frequent misting is needed to keep plants happy.

Waiting until a break in misting episodes seemed sensible, pretty as it was.

I walked alongside the little stream, and was astonished by these giant strappy plants. A little further on, I found the name peg: their common name is Stream Lilies! Or more properly, the rather ugly Helmholtzia glaberimma.

Native to New South Wales and Queensland rainforests, they can apparently grow up to two metres high.

The misting left the spiderwebs as beautifully bejewelled as dew can. The ‘stump’ of a tree fern here provided the perfect framework for the diamond-hung strands.

Other less-ambitious spiders took advantage of even the low ground covers, with hundreds of ultra fine mini nets.

Older tree fern trunks, with their many broken-off leaf bases, were home to a stunning variety of life — unidentified, unimagined, but applauded.

And it seems fitting to end as I began, with fungi, always treasure to be sought on rainforest floors. This sole flower-like specimen of brassy gold was yet so well camouflaged I might have missed it. Again, I applaud.

Flush with fungi

With rain every few days and humidity almost liquid — or it is on my person! — fungi are thriving. Nothing spectacular or colourful, some rather shy and delicate, but each different in an unassuming way.

And the large colony amongst my raised garden beds is still renewing itself, growing larger and more fleshy each time.

I love flowers and foliage, but fungi are more fascinating!

From camouflage to cappuccino

Spot the odd one out amongst the horse poo and mulch chips?

I nearly didn’t. But then the choc-chip coated drumstick swam into focus and could not be unseen.

Looking about, I spotted two more beside the raised garden bed, still in the same rough mulch. It’s been so dry, I was surprised to see such healthy fleshy fungi popping up.

Next day they had opened out considerably, the choc chip look had gone, but the light dusting of chocolate powder in the top centre made them more like the creamy top of a cappuccino.

No chance of camouflage now.

These fungi may be,( I think!) Chlrophyllum molybdites, due to the drumstick start, the slightly bulbous base below ground, and the pale olive greenish gills.  I had five in total.

Next day they are flatter, darker and beginning to split, resembling a flower from above. The concentricity of the pattern is even more obvious.

If the identification is correct, this is highly toxic raw, requiring hospitalisation! Although it is recorded to have been eaten after thorough cooking… why risk it?!

Dorrigo details

Rainforests are often majestic and always green worlds of their own. Dorrigo National Park has a two-hour walk that takes you through such a world.

While focal points like the Falls are spectacular, it’s the details along the way that fascinate me.

Conical hanging birds’ nests? Or accidentally arranged lichen?

Vines reach for the light way above, and lichen hitches a ride on most things, decorating bark to green furriness.

Different lichens decorate in different ways, here trailing like delicate green feather boas.

This walk is on a steep hillside, where the very large trees need all the earth hold they can get, so buttresses are common, but not often as narrow as these.

The bark of the tree varieties is interesting enough, but some bore strange markings like moon craters or excrescences like foetal creatures.

Fascinating details that I wanted a guide to quiz.

I saw many more varieties but could not photograph them as halfway round the walk I was caught in a thunderstorm, with heavy rain and stinging hail. I had to stow the camera in my bag and don the emergency plastic poncho. The camera survived the long wet trip back, my boots and trousers and the poncho didn’t.

Wood blooms

On stumps of felled or fallen trees and logs from such, this last week of rain has brought forth a cornucopia of fungi blooms of the strangest shapes. These ones look more like tiny shells and amber bluebottles.

Others have the more expected ‘ear’ shape, when not being bubbles, so I can only assume that they are Auricularia Sp. 1; definitely one of the ‘jelly’ fungi.

Yet others are so discoloured and distorted that they look like something regurgitated.

On a similar log in my mini rainforest these more ‘ordinary’ white fungi are what caught my distant eye in the first place.

They are tough and solid, with tiny pores underneath, and also appear to have bubble babies. However, I wasn’t able to identify what they are called.

Not on wood but in the leaf litter was this cute little glistening orange cup, that I think is Amanita xanthocephala.

I find it astonishing that my village backyard just keeps producing surprise treats for the observant eye.

Toxic tempters

On a visit to my friend Sharyn’s rural property, she showed me these cartoon fairytale fungi under the windbreak of introduced fir trees.

No fairies or elves were sitting on these ones, but perhaps they missed the boat when the species (Amanita muscaria) was introduced to the NSW Blue Mountains for its undeniable decorative qualities.

While vivid and pretty, as tempting as a toffee apple or strawberries and cream, this fungus is toxic.

Sometimes unromantically called Fly Agaric, it’s been used as a fly poison. It has now spread to all Eastern states and Tasmania, where problematically it seems to have adapted to the native beech trees (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and may replace the native fungi.

But here the brilliant domes and their expanding plates have also naturalised under the chestnut trees. Note the many fallen spiky, hairy chestnut pods.

My boot gives an idea of the large size as the fungi caps open, fade to brown, and split into fleshy ‘flowers’.

One other foreigner, also brought in for pine trees, lives here with Sharyn’s chestnut trees. Slippery Jack, as it’s known in England, or Suillus Luteus, is visibly slimy and not pretty, but actually is edible. Commonly eaten in Europe, where they peel off the glutinous skin before doing so.

From swamp to stream

Normally I have a view of a swamp, algae covered except where ducks forge a path. It’s the most permanent of a deliberately created wetlands complex of often dry depressions, built for flood mitigation with metal traps to catch debris.

I don’t usually get to see white water or hear it rushing through the forest, yet after a few days of welcome heavy rain, my swamp is transformed as it does its job of moving water.

Weedy sinks are pools, low-lying parts of the forest are semi-submerged and a small creek has found a path through the bottom of my garden.

And I know you’ve probably seen enough of these fungi, but I love that they are so prolific, with new colonies appearing every few days in this wet weather.

Water is Life!