Fungi background

Of the estimated 250 000 species of fungi in Australia a small number have been described.  Westgate Park has been ‘under creation’ only since 1999 as a park for locally indigenous plants but already it supports a quite diverse range of fungi.  This is not (yet) an area of expertise for the Friends and our documentation and identification of fungi is a work in progress with over 60 species photographed.  We include in the following pages, fungi we can identify with a degree of confidence and those we cannot. The task is very difficult. Some fungi can only be differentiated from others by microscopic examination and the appearance of one species can vary enormously depending on its age, the substrate, weather, etc.

We very much welcome your comments and input. Autumn/Winter is a good time to see fungi in the Park, especially after rain.

Here is what the experts have to say about the importance of fungi:

Wandering in bushland, or indeed urban parkland, in late autumn or early winter, one can only wonder at the extraordinary range of colour, shape and texture of the fungi which, encouraged by rain and warm soil, magically appear.  Yet, the fruit bodies that we see are but a small portion of the ‘real’ fungus, the bulk of which remains hidden beneath the ground, in rotting wood or other organic matter.  In breaking down organic matter and recycling nutrients, fungi play a vital role in our ecosystems, and many species also have a mutual relationshjip with trees and shrubs, assisting them in taking up water and nutrients.  Others provide food for a countless number of soil invertebrates.

(John Landy AC, MBE, former Governor of Victoria in the Foreword of Fungi Down Under, the Fungimap Guide to Australian Fungi The Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, 2005)

Not only do fungi play an essential role in Australian bushland ecology but without them, life on earth as we know it would rapidly cease.  In Australia, as elsewhere, mushrooms and toadstools are the silent and essential partners in the woodlands and forests.  Without beneficial fungal partnerships with their roots, our gum trees and related plants cannot survive.  The macrofungi are critical food resources for many of our native mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, but are equally important as recyclers of plant material in these forests.  Without them, nutrients would become progressively locked into non-decaying plant debris; the forests would become choked with fallen logs, branches and leaves; and many soils would lose their nutrients and their productivity.    Fungi also contain very strange chemicals, but without funding for analysis, most remain unknown. …Australian mychology has probably reached the point where English mycology was in about 1850 and much more work is badly needed.

(Young, AM; A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia, UNSW Press 2010 Preface.)

The question of which fungi are native and which introduced is also problematic. As Bruce Fuhrer points out in his A field Guide to Australian Fungi, fungus species have a much wider distribution than flowering plants, within Australia and beyond.

Fungi are among the most numerous organisms on Earth, but because of the ephemeral nature of their fruit bodies they are not widely known or understood.  One of the vital functions of fungi in nature is the continuous recycling of forest debris into soil nutrients; paradoxically, they can be benevolent partners or parasites to plants.  For mankind they provide food and medicines.

The use of wood chips in garden mulch has led to the appearance of many interesting species into parks and suburban gardens that would normally occur in forests or associated with particular tree species, native or otherwise.  Again, a large proportion of Australian fungi are at present unnamed.

The images on these pages show a wide variety of insects on fungi and it is obvious that fungi is being eaten. It is also known that several fly and beetle species deposit their eggs on or in fungi which become food for the larvae.

There is a paucity of knowledge about Aboriginal use of fungi but here is the webpage of the Australian National Botanical Garden on the subject:  http://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/aboriginal.html

In 1995, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria initiated Fungimap to improve knowledge about Australian fungi and to map their distribution. See their website: fungi map.org.au and find out how you can assist by  submitting records.

We have relied on:

* Fungi Down Under – the Fungimap Guide to Australian Fungi, FNCV and Royal Botanic Gardens, 2005

* A field guide to Australian Fungi, Bruce Fuhrer, Bloomings Books, 2005

* A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia, AM Young, UNSW Press, 2010

* Australian Fungi Illustrated, IR McCann, Macdown Productions, 2003

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