Fungus in the Rainforest

To most people the word fungus is a dirty word conjuring images of

skin irritations, green fur on leather shoes in the tropics, and mould on bread.

Others may think more kindly in terms of mushrooms and culinary

delights.

But in spite of the alert in Australian Geographic, April-June 2005, to

be on the lookout for the fruiting bodies of fungi which erupt in their hundreds

on the forest floor, we were scarcely prepared for the kaleidoscope of colours

and shapes which burst forth.

Since purchasing Quamby Falls Lodge in the Gold Coast Hinterland and

establishing it as a Couple’s Retreat focussed on romance and our rainforest

environment, we have experienced several years of green drought. But this winter

was warm with frequent rains and fungi burst forth as brilliant orange brackets

on fallen logs, white lace on lush green moss carpets, luminous fairy

toad-stools, golden goblets brimming with rainwater, minute scarlet toadstools

on needle slender stems, gold tops and mauve mushrooms on the lawn. Even red

phallus fungi emerge erect from the leaf litter on the forest floor, competing

for kinky attention with the life-size black phallus appearing in an orange

net-like singlet complete with attendant flies! Nature burst forth to play her

most frivolous games proffering fungi in a myriad of colours, shapes and sizes –

her imagination seemed to have no limitations. One could be forgiven for

searching for elves and fairies who alone could be imagined responsible for such

inventive and mischievous forms.

But not all types are so friendly. Some smell like rotting carrion;

nature’s trick to have flies assist in the dispersal of fungal spores.

Strangely, flies and mosquitoes are not common in our rainforest so the

competition for attention is fierce.

We take guests on a guided bush walk to Quamby Falls which, being 120

metres high is the highest permanent waterfall on both our property, and in

Southern Queensland. With 50 acres of rainforest of World Heritage quality, and

surrounded by World Heritage National Parks, we are home to a plethora of rare

and endangered species of birds, trees, shrubs and smaller plants. This

extraordinary biodiversity has attracted the research of visiting scientists

investigating environmental issues ranging from the reversal of the Magnetic

Pole; botanical studies; the genetic breeding distribution of log-runner birds,

a living fossil dating from Gondwanaland; and the cross-sectional examination of

a geographic region derived from volcanic activity which occurred 22 million

years ago and as revealed in the example of Quamby Falls. Exploring the

environmental treasures, abundant at Quamby Falls, usually takes about 1 ½ to 2

hours. With the advent of the fungi, however, many of the walks extend to 4

hours to traverse just 1 ½ kilometres of walking track.

Identification of genera, species and varieties of macrofungi has been

undertaken by Dr Tony Young and Nigel Fechner of the Queensland Herbarium. The

books “Common Australian Fungi- a bushwalkers guide” by Tony Young (2005) and

published by UNSW Press; “Fungi

Down Under” by Pat & Ed Gray (2005) and published by Royal Botanic Gardens

Melbourne; and “A field guide to Australian Fungi” by Bruce Fuhrer (2005) are

very helpful publications for those wishing to learn more about this fascinating

subject.

As only an estimated 10-20% of the macrofungal species in Australia have

been formally identified, the chances of discovering something new and

undescribed are very high for any nature lovers or bushwalkers anywhere. Even

children can participate in and enjoy this tremendous journey of

discovery.