I’ve been wanting to see an earthstar ever since I saw photos in a field guide. What a romantic name! And this one was on my property last week during the rain.

Earthstars are in the same taxonomic group as puffballs and some truffle-like fungi. They start out looking like a puffball, then the outer layer splits, revealing the inner sphere that holds the spores.

Possibly Gaestrum saccatum

The powdery spore mass is puffed out of the central hole (seen below) at maturity, usually by the impact of raindrops.

A 5c piece (aka ‘echidna’, beloved of fungi researchers) indicates size. The white thing on the top right is the egg sac of a spider. I don’t know whether the actual spider on it is a hatchling or not, as I didn’t see any others or witness the hatching. The egg sac actually looks like that of a huntsman, but the tiny spider doesn’t look like a huntsman. Perhaps it was eating the babies, or just passing by. The photo below was taken a couple of days after the ones above, and you can see the effects of ageing on the earthstar.



An Aseroe rubra, starfish fungus, was nearby, with flies happily gobbling up the slime that contains the spores. This one also starts off looking like a puffball, which ruptures to produce the final shape. The spores are carried by the fly to another Aseroe and pooped out onto it, ‘pollinating’ it. This one wasn’t stinky, at least to me, but it must have been enough for the flies to be attracted.


Christa’s picks

Christa is fond of fungi, too, and generously sent me some pics of fungal fruiting bodies. (The last two pics are not fungi but they are fun.) Thanks, Christa! (All photos by Christa Schwoebel.)

Location and/or IDs are in the captions (sometimes I couldn’t ID due to my meagre skills in this area). I’ve used as a guide Australian Subtropical Fungi (McMullan-Fisher, Leonard and Guard, Suncoast Fungi, 2014) but any errors in ID are my own. The first three are from Germany and are not native Australian species – beautiful nonetheless!

Close to the river Rhine, near Mannheim


Amanita muscaria, one of the hallucinogenic fungi, close to the river Rhine, near Mannheim

Polypore, close to the river Rhine, near Mannheim

Smoky Cape, NSW

Gulaga (Mount Dromedary), NSW South Coast




Trametes versicolor, Terania Creek, NSW

The stinkhorn, Phallus multicolor

The stinkhorn, Phallus multicolor

Stinkhorn, Aseroe rubra (starfish fungus), Smoky Cape, NSW; the stinky black slime that flies are attracted to contains spores

Stinkhorn, Aseroe rubra (starfish fungus), Wittitrin, Macleay Valley, NSW

Wood ear, Auricularia auricula-judae, near Binna Burra Lodge, Lamington National Park, SE Qld

Wood ear, Auricularia auricula-judae, near Binna Burra Lodge, Lamington National Park, SE Qld

Kattang Nature Reserve near Laurieton, NSW; the blue fruit (top right) is from the rainforest tree, Elaeocarpus grandis (blue quandong)

What you lookin’ at? (Water dragon and magpie)




Big Scrub Loop, Nightcap National Park, fungi (part 2)

Here are my photos of the same walk as in the previous post. These are different fungi to those in the previous post, plus a couple of other things of interest at the end. The rainforest is endlessly fascinating!


And just because lichen are so fabulous …

Lichen, a combination of fungi and algae



As are aerial roots …

And strangler figs …

Big Scrub Loop, Nightcap National Park, fungi (part 1)

The other day, after five days of rain, three of us went looking for fungi in the Nightcap National Park, northern New South Wales. I was also on the lookout for slime moulds, but didn’t find any. I thought this was me not recognising them, so I was relieved to come across Steve Axford, also hunting fungi and slime, who said he hadn’t seen any either.

Nevertheless, it was a stunning walk and we found many fungi. These photos were taken by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. I also managed to put my hand on a fallen stinging tree leaf, but fortunately the stinging sensation didn’t last more than a few minutes. Phew – they have a ferocious reputation.

I haven’t attempted ID, gorgeous as they are. Thanks to the photographer for the delicious home-made morning tea, too! There’s nothing like sitting on a rock in a stream-bed in the middle of old growth forest, devouring yummy cakes and coffee.

Sorry you got so many leeches – I got only two, plus a tick.

Sharpes Beach fungi

The rain continues on and off. Lismorons (and I mean that in an affectionate way) are a bit over it, but ducks, frogs and fungi are loving it.

There’s a newish walking/cycling/jogging/dog- and/or child-walking path through the heath on the coast at Sharpes Beach. As well as a good spot for surf-watching (always a relaxing activity), at present it has lots of fungi.

The yellow and red species below are stinkhorns, Phallus multicolor and P. rubicunda. The brown slime is stinky and attracts flies, which gobble up the spores and distribute them around the place. Both these species are very common. It’s best to wait for a couple of days after rain to allow time for the fruiting bodies (the main body of the fungus – the mycelium – is underground and what we think of as fungi are actually the fruiting bodies) to appear. The mycelia are saprophytic, meaning they break down organic matter, thereby distributing nutrients  into the soil. These phalluses were in mulch.

Phallus multicolor

Here are some others from the same path. The first two are agarics, Schizophyllum commune. They start off pinky, then bleach to white with age.

Schizophyllum commune; 5c piece on top for scale

Schizophyllum commune, white when bleached with age


Next is (probably) Pycnoporus coccineus (the scarlet bracket). The underside shows pores rather than gills (making it a polypore).

Pycnoporus coccineus

Pycnoporus coccineus underside, showing pores

Another polypore …

Underside of the photo below

Amanita xanthocephala

Amanita xanthocephala underside – note the gills, not pores, and there’s no annulus (ring) on the stem. Amanitas generally have an annulus, but this species doesn’t.

When you take photos of the fruiting bodies, ideally you take a shot of the underside as well as the top (to see whether it has gills or pores), and the stem (to see whether it has an annulus or not), and include a 5c piece for scale. Undersides can be seen via a small mirror. If you ask for IDs on a Facebook group like SEQ Fungi, you’ll be in their good books if your photo has all that. Location is vital, too.

After handling fungi, it’s best to wash hands as you do not want to be carrying around more spores than you need to.

IDs are from:

  • “A Guide to Common Fungi of Coastal New South Wales” (Dept of Primary Industries, 2016). This is available as a free download on the last page of ‪ The download is called “A Guide to the Common Fungi of the Hunter-Central Rivers Region”, but covers many of our fungi in the Nortern Rivers. I think the 2016 book might be an update.
  • “Australian Subtropical Fungi” (McMullan-Fisher, Leonard and Guard, 2014)
  • Australian Fungi blog.

Any ID mistakes are my own.

Here is a free poster to download for identifying stinkhorns (don’t worry, it’s not scratch and sniff).

If you are on Facebook, there’s a transcript of a good talk on fungi edibility.

And here’s a cute rewriting of Dorothy McKellar’s poem “My Country”: “My Fungi“.

Big Scrub Landcare fungal foray (Part 2)

This is the second part of my fungi photos from the Nightcap National Park foray last weekend. Part 1 is here.

These beauties …

… come from these ‘babies’ …

Underside of the fungus in the previous photo

Phillipsia subpurpurea

Phillipsia subpurpurea underside


A yellow mycelium (the main part of fungus through which nutrients are absorbed) growing on a rotting log

Catherine searching out fungi


Non-fungi finds

Slime mould

Another slime mould

The giant panda snail (Hedleyella falconeri) is Australia’s largest land snail and (surprise, surprise) eats fungi.

Hedleyella falconeri

Hedleyella falconeri underside

Vine aerial roots

What the Big Scrub might have looked like, before it was cut down


Keep an eye out for another fungal foray later in the year, thanks to Big Scrub Landcare. Thanks to Steve and Catherine for a sterling guiding effort.

Big Scrub Landcare fungal foray (part 1)

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.

Steve shooting a fungus on a fallen log

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:

  1. saprophytic (living on dead or decaying organic matter) – the most likely in rainforests;
  2. 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
  3. 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.

Steve gives us the basics

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.

Mark Dunphy of Firewheel Nursery (left) and Steve tracking down an ID

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).

Parasola (formerly Coprinus) plicatilis; Japanese parasol

Cymatoderma elegans; leathery goblets

Filoboletus manipularis

Microporous xanthropus (turkey tail)

Auricularia cornea – top; this is regarded as a jelly fungus

Auricularia cornea – underside

Jelly fungus

Club fungus

I’m already planning to go back to the Nightcap, camera in hand but having first RTFM. Now, where is that scrub itch ointment?

More in Part 2

Barker’s Vale fungi

Barker’s Vale is about 20 km north of me. Thanks to Brigitte who has let me use her photographs. I’ll not attempt to ID them – this is just a photographic record that they exist at her place. I haven’t got my head around the fungi enough yet, but I’m going on Steve Axford‘s fungal foray on Saturday so should pick up some tips. (Steve lives not too far away and specialises in photographing fungi. His luminous fungi are shown in the latest David Attenborough series.)



Fungi in the forests

I know very little about fungi except that it is always a delight to see them. The part we see, as you may know, is only the fruiting body. The ‘body’ of the fungus itself is underground.

Countrysideinfo explains the structure of fungi thus:

The main body of most fungi is made up of fine, branching, usually colourless threads called hyphae. Each fungus will have vast numbers of these hyphae, all intertwining to make up a tangled web called the mycelium. The mycelium is generally too fine to be seen by the naked eye, except where the hyphae are very closely packed together.

[The] fungal mycelium is mostly hidden from human view, not only because of its small size, but also as a result of its location. The tangled mycelial mass is usually hidden deep within its food sources, such as rotting matter in the soil, leaf litter, rotting wood, or dead animals. The mycelium remains undetected until it develops one or more fruiting bodies, containing the reproductive spores.

We did not go on a ‘fungi foray’ on the course, but I stumbled upon some anyway. The IDs, and any mistakes, are entirely my own (unless otherwise specified), using Frances Guard’s (and others) book, Australian Subtropical Fungi, and Australian Fungi – A Blog. Corrections are humbly appreciated.

Microporus xanthopus

Microporus xanthopus, decomposers of wood



Lactarius clarkeae

Phylloporus species, a gilled boleteit was massive!
(ID by Frances Guard) Boletes normally have pores rather than gills, but this one has been DNA’d to boletes.




Top of Lactarius clarkeae

Top of Phylloporus species


Pycnoporus coccineus

Stereum ostrea? These break down wood.


Frances Guard with Aricularia cornea (cloud ears)

Frances Guard (author of the book mentioned above) with Aricularia cornea (cloud ears)


Aricularia cornea (cloud ears)

Aricularia cornea (cloud ears) – these were so soft to touch




Pluteus sp

Pluteus species (ID by Fran)


Ganoderma australe

Ganoderma australe (ID by Fran)

Fran gave a one-hour talk on the basics of fungi, which you can pick up in any field guide or on the web, so I won’t regurgitate them here.

Next post will be on those tiny treasures, the subtropical invertebrates.

Miscellaneous moths and mushrooms

Wandering and/or bashing along bush tracks, we often saw life forms of various persuasions.

Moths, for example …

Granny Moth (or Old Lady Moth) Dasypodia selenophora, Arthur River, Tasmania

Granny moth (or old lady moth) Dasypodia selenophora, Arthur River, Tasmania


Moth_Arthur River

Unidentified moth, Arthur River

… and mushrooms. I took most of the following photos in the Tarkine, a cool temperate rainforest. The others were in the heathland near the coast. Both environments were very dry – Tasmania has had record low rainfall lately. A dry rainforest is a sad sight indeed. I won’t attempt to identify them as it’s hard from a photo unless you already know your mushrooms; sometimes you need a microscope to differentiate the spores.

Tarkine fungus_2

An agaric fungus

Tarkine fungus_1

A polypore (left)

Arthur River fungus_4



Arthur River fungus_1


Arthur River fungus_2

Arthur River fungus_3

A bolete fungus (no gills but tubes that open at pores on the underside of the cap)




Not wombat poo (which is cubic)


Arthur river fungus_6

Arthur river fungus_7 Arthur river fungus_8

I can see why people are fascinated by the different forms and colours.