This weird and wonderful world

I finally stole half an hour to pull out some old tomato plants and onions add a bit of compost to the vegie garden — and look what I uncovered. Damn, I thought, more plastic that got into the compost and didn’t compost.

But I couldn’t recall what on earth it might have been the framework of… and then I twigged.

I rushed inside and checked my fungi book; yep, incredible as it seemed, this was one of the really weird fungi. Of course the next step was to go to my website and click on the link for ‘Gaye’s fungi.’

Once there I clicked on her ‘White without gills’ category, scrolled down past some rather disgusting looking other fungi, and there it was:

Ileodictyon gracile (Smooth Cage) a stinkhorn fungus. 

Gaye gives a very detailed life story for it, with photos from egg (yes, egg!) to final free-rolling lattice or basket form.

Who would dream up such a strange organism? I am still having trouble believing it.

Woko fungi

While the Woko rainforest may be green, slow walkers and careful lookers can spot dashes and spots of colour as the fungi which love rotting wood and leaves display their amazing variety.

The flamboyant ‘flowerings’ of the orange coral fungi (Ramaria subaurantica) (left) were easy to see, unlike the single tiny orange cup (right) (Aleuria aurantia?).

I almost missed the strange grey groping fingers of what I think may be Clavaria zollingeri (left); another pointed out this solitary perfect dark chocolate sphere in its cracked wafer shell, which I first took to be some sort of Earthstar but think may be Scleroderma polyrhizum, although very dark?

And then there were the pretty ‘fairy’ sorts of fungi, like these mini red ‘parasols’, which I didn’t check if they were velvety or slimy, so could be Hygrocybe miniata or Mycena viscidocruenta? I must take the fungi book with me on such trips!

The elegant beauties on the right were growing on a fallen log high up in front of the waterfall; no idea what they are and I guess you wouldn’t normally be looking up into them.

This unknown creme caramel trio took my fancy because they were so determinedly offset, trying to keep their caps level — caps which were definitely slimy —  ‘viscous.’

This enormous colony seemed to be dying, as the host tree already had; half of the trunk had snapped off and lay on the forest floor, where the delicately flushed fungi fans were turning dark and papery. This reminded me of marine platform rocks covered in shells, so dense was the population.

Winter browns

Brown is not a favourite colour for me; I never wear it. I don’t even particularly like chocolate.

My dad — and many others — was fond of a paint called Mission Brown. He also grew beans for market, of a variety called Brown Beauty, which I was allowed to help plant when I was little, and felt obliged to help pick when I was older.

Lately I have seen some fungi that could come under the category of brown beauties.

These little helmets shot up in the leaf litter of a non-indigenous tree by the Goulburn River. Two days later I went back to see how they had opened but  they had disappeared, eaten I assume. Cappuccino brown, with an overly-eager barista shaking the chocolate over the centre, leaving the frothy edge untouched?

As for their name, I can’t say, given they didn’t open — but at a guess, Macrolepiota clelandii??

Back home, with 295mm in the rain gauge, I’d say it’s been pretty wet. The perfect time for this solitary little Earth Star fungus, Geastrum triplex, to appear.

They depend on raindrops for spore dispersal, the downwards sloped rays of the star increasing the chances of the central ball getting wet. Not that with 295mm it had much chance of being missed!

 A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia by A M Young describes an event I’d love to see:

‘Large, mature colonies of this species can be spectacular in light showers of rain; the falling raindrops produce an obvious cloud of ejected spores floating in the air several centimetres above the colony.’

Riverside homes

The weathered sandstone cliffs by the Goulburn River offer shelter to a variety of creatures. Those who aren’t winged must like easy access; I fancied these caves had steps — foot and hand holds — cut into the face below.

Closer to ground level, smaller winged creatures — like native bees? or? — had chosen the underside of the ‘plates’ in a severely eroded sandstone cave roof. Unoccupied summer residences?

Walking back along the clifftops, I spotted this large Angophora hollow home with its beautifully rounded edges of bark slowly grown around it. I am sure some animal or bird has claimed such a desirable residence.

Underfoot was both crunchy and cushioned; the lichens and mosses on the rock base were dazzling in variety and intensity. Miniature forests and coral gardens.

On the path, a few tiny fluted fungi had pushed through the thin soil and brightened the bush with their golden trumpets. I think these are Cantharellus concinnus, Australian Chanterelle.

In this sort of dry country, the treasures are often shy and small, needing an observant eye, and worth it.

Fashion fungi

Under the big stringybark tree the leaf litter is deep. It is home to a whole world of bugs and grubs I am sure, but also an incubator for some astonishingly beautiful fungi. The winter colours in vogue this year are striking — and both are new to me.

This solitary smart purple number poked its head through the other day. It is quite small.  From my book I can only guess it might be a Cortinarius, but is it C. archeri or C.aff.violaceus, or another variety not in my book? Is the stem pale lilac really?

There’s only one so I’m not going to break it to check its gills or flesh to be able to get the name right!

Under the same spreading tree, about three metres away, I spotted several of these; elegantly coloured two-tone, olive-green above a subtle amber yellow. In the surrounding leaves, more are getting ready to make their debut.

Green is not a common colour in our fungi, so I hope I am right in guessing this is Dermocybe austrovenenta.

Damp surprise

You have to keep your eyes wide open around here, for you never know what oddity nature will toss about unannounced.

It’s been wet and cold and i’ve not been outside much, but at least there are some breaks today.  Dashing out to the woodpile during one of them, I squinted at a pale dab of colour beneath the leafless birch tree.

It could well be an autumn leaf blown from a more distant tree — or, more exciting, it could be a new slime mould!

I squelched closer, noting the rapid growth in the bulb leaves since I last checked. Nope, not slime mould, but an overly populated clump of fungi.

I remember that there were several clumps here one other year, although not in this exact spot. I didn’t recall them being so ‘toothy’, almost like sea anemones. I didn’t identify them then, and still can’t, despite trying anew.

I’ll have to settle for my usual admiring and ignorant astonishment at the complexity of life if we let it be.

Autumn flower

There’s little flowering right now in my forest, but this pink one caught my eye. Hadn’t seen it before, and there was only one. 
So, naturally, I got the camera and went closer.

Which is when I realised it was a fungus, fleshy rather than flowery, fat-stemmed, the cap splitting into ‘petals’, lightly frilled, with a gill-fluted white petticoat.

And I have tried to find out what it could be called, but failed. Neither my books, nor Gaye’s Fungi site, nor the web, have revealed its identity.

One of the mysterious aspects of fungi is how a single specimen can appear, delight and confuse me, and disappear, never to return in that spot– or not for the decades I’m around.

Oyster and tomato fungi, anyone?

Being Autumn, alternately damp and cold, then dry and warm, I’m on the alert for more weird and wonderful fungi. 

These fleshy tree-huggers are new to me. I was taken by the way their lightly frilled skirts droop into points like nippled udders. 

I think they are a type of oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, which would be edible, but I wouldn’t dare try them.
Perhaps someone will identify them for me.

A few days later, these two isolated individuals showed up on the forest floor. Tomato-red, I think I have tracked them down to be Stropharia aurantiaca.

They don’t have a common name, so Tomato fungi they will be for me. 

They aren’t noted as edible, but given my cowardly nature in such matters, I’ll just enjoy their cheery appearance on a bleak day.

 For me, common or not, all fungi are magic — sudden appearances, startling colours and shapes, as much appreciated for the surprise, the element of discovery they provide, as for the visual treat.

The Blob

On my way out the other day I noticed  a bright yellow blob on the bark of a fallen tree by the gate. Must get a photo of that, I thought — but I forgot for few days.

When I returned with the camera, the bright yellow had turned orange, with older purple edges and only small oozings, awfully like custard — or worse — showed yellow.

Now I had not seen this before, but from previous investigations into another of the family, I knew it must be a slime mould, Myxomycota. They’re not fungi but tend to be lumped with them.

I had been fascinated that they move about like amoebae, reproducing into perhaps thousands of ‘daughter cells’; then, at some sort of chemical signal, they all get together and make a larger organism.

Some species make such large organisms that a horror movie, The Blob, was inspired by them. 

This is one of the most common, worldwide, I had read. It’s in my fungi book as Fuligo septica, with the common name of ‘Flowers of Tan’, but the much less poetic and more apt names I found to be most common elsewhere were ‘Dog vomit mould’ or ‘Scrambled egg mould’!

Field fungi

Visiting a friend recently I spotted a solitary white ‘mushroom’ in the middle of their grazed paddock. It looked like the elegant parasols I have had at home sometimes.

I took the camera over to investigate; the inquisitive sheep followed me.

It’s an especially beautiful fungus, frilled and flocked and so purely white as it is. It always makes me think of demure young ladies in Victorian times. It is Macrolepiota dolichaula and I believe it’s quite common. Some people eat it without ill effects; others find the opposite; others, like me, don’t want to find out.

Only a week before I had stopped to see what these huge fleshy fungi were, in an overgrown roadside area, normally mown. There were about a dozen of them.

I’d photographed them but not looked them up. The central peak, the ‘umbo’, looked like lightly browned meringue.

Now I realise they were probably the same as the one my sheep fancied, but because they were turning upwards, probably older, they looked more substantial, not parasol-like at all.

The patch is now mown and no trace of the colony exists. I wonder if the mowing man felt reluctant to slice through them?