Heavy rain in parts of Queensland has awoken a hidden kingdom of fungi, and with it a passionate community of amateur mycologists.
- Wet weather across much of Queensland triggers eruptions of fungus across the state
- Amateur mycologists say there’s a “world of discovery” available as little is known about the kingdom of fungi
- Experts warn against picking and eating wild mushrooms
Queensland Mycological Society president Wayne Boatwright said the wet weather was the key to some of these exotic-looking fungi species coming to the surface.
“These mycelial networks live underground and hidden away in timber and we’re completely unaware of them,” he said.
“All of a sudden when a rain event occurs the mycelial network has the resources from the hydrostatic pressure to produce fruiting bodies.
Still so much to discover
For retired ecologist Barry Muir recent rain in Far North Queensland has provided the perfect opportunity to further his research into the region’s fungal species.
“I’ve been working on them here for the last five years,” he said.
“I would say that about 80 per cent of what I’ve found are either undescribed or doesn’t quite fit the design of the fungi found down south.
“You pick up a book and you say, ‘That’s a such and such’, but then when you get into it you find the spores are a little different or something else is a little different.”
In 2018 a State of the World’s Fungi report found that just 150,000 of an estimated 3 million species of fungi had been identified globally.
The Queensland Herbarium houses only 1,145 species of fungi, two of which are naturalised to the state but not endemic.
In contrast, the herbarium holds about 10,500 plant species.
Mr Boatwright said there were large gaps in collections and knowledge.
“We estimate between four and six fungal associations with each of those trees so there should be around 46,000 records or fungal specimens in that library, but there isn’t,” he said.
“Mycology is where botany was 150 years ago and that means there’s a world of discovery out there.”
‘People were frightened of them’
The delicate nature of fungi means it is a battle against time to document new species.
“The window of opportunity to go out and discover fungi can be very brief,” Mr Boatwright said.
Among the longer-lasting species found in Queensland are stinkhorns, which begin fruiting as egg-like growths on the ground.
“If you pull one of them [the eggs] up and break it open you’ll see it’s got a gelatinous material inside it, and inside that is another structure which will eventually grow into the mushroom head,” Mr Muir said.
“They’re the ones people often get in their gardens … they’re shaped like a male organ and they have a bad-smelling goop on the top which is designed to attract blowflies.
The pair often warn people against picking and eating wild mushrooms.
“I often ask people, ‘If you saw a ham sandwich laying on a log in the middle of a forest, would you stop and eat it?'” Mr Boatwright said.
“The real problem is with doppelgangers as there are a lot of species which are look-alikes.
Mr Muir agreed.
“If you collect fungi and eat them, always keep two extra in the refrigerator — one for the doctor and one for the person doing the autopsy,” he said.