Local photographer Steve Axford has recently sprung into the international limelight with his time-lapse videos of fungi, shown on David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth II – Jungles”. And splendid they are, too. Steve started photographing fungi about 10 years ago, and has set up a spare shower at his home for the videoing. As he himself said, he is not a scientist but, of course, works with many. I recently went on a fungi-finding walk with him and fellow film-maker Catherine Marciniak, organised by Big Scrub Landcare.
The site was the Nightcap National Park, Gibbergunyah Range Road, Whian Whian, just before you get to Rocky Creek Dam. I’d never been to this treasure of the Big Scrub landscape before. It’d be a good place for birdwatching, too – just don’t take 20 people with you, as on this foray. If you tip-toe through the fungi, you’ll see more birds.
We took the Big Scrub Loop, an easy walk with occasional slight inclines. It was soon clear that fallen trees had the most fungi – one might have many examples of many different species. As you know, the things we call fungi are actually the fruiting bodies of the actual fungus, which is often not so visible.
Steve takes several shots at different focal lengths, afterwards blending them together to form the final shot. If necessary, he’ll use something like a white business card to reflect light onto a fungus.
The photo he took above is on the Fungi Fetish Facebook page. This is a citizen science site where anyone can post a photo and get help with ID. Another Facebook site for fungi in our area (northern NSW) is SEQ Fungi.
According to Steve, fungal lifestyles can be categorised into three types:
- saprophytic (living on dead or decaying organic matter) – the most likely in rainforests;
- mycorrhizal (the symbiotic association between fungi and the root systems of plants) – many plants don’t have this association (see this website for a list); and
- parasitic (using the live tissues of various organisms for food) – an example is tinea on human feet. A rare and tragic example is the death last year of a New Zealand woman infected after inhaling a wood-decay fungus.
Rainforests are generally able to provide fungi with enough nutrients via the saprophytic route, but some rainforest trees do have mycorrhizal associations if they need more nutrients. In contrast, eucalypts and acacias all have mycorrhizal associations, being in relatively poor soils.
Other places that fungi live, and where you might not expect (I certainly didn’t), are in marine and freshwater environments (even in ocean depths) and in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The latter are thought to use melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy they can use, in an analogous way to photosynthesis which uses visible light (a form of radiation) to generate usable chemical energy. How cool is that? Or hot, depending how you like your radiation.
Steve does not encourage the eating of fungi as it’s hard to tell if they are toxic. Some Australian fungi look like some in Europe, but DNA testing has shown that they are entirely different species.
It was embarassing to be with one of the world’s foremost fungi photographers and not having even RTFM (google that if you don’t know what it means) of my own small camera – hence, apologies for the slight blurring in some of my photos. I’ve included them anyway as you can see some structure, and even some fungi ID books have one or two blurry photos. The only book presently available specifically for our area is Australian Subtropical Fungi. I’ve used this and any ID mistakes are mine (corrections are welcomed). If there’s no ID, I haven’t been able to recognise a photo in a book yet (IDs welcome).
I’m already planning to go back to the Nightcap, camera in hand but having first RTFM. Now, where is that scrub itch ointment?