Otari – Wilton’s Bush Fungal Foray 2013

You can read more about Otari-Wilton’s Bush from the foray report for 2011 and 2012, and at the Otari Wilton’s Bush website.

This last summer has been notable in being dry and followed by a reasonably wet autumn (see The drought has broken). So there were plenty of fungi around for the foray, 25-26 May 2013. Below is the list of what we did see.

Otari garden - an exhibition garden of low growing New Zealand native plants but not native to the local area) mulched with wood chips.

Lepiota sp. [a parasol] – this was in the garden under Nothofagus solandri. This is the first collection of this species at Otari.

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Leratiomyces ceres [scarlet roundhead] – on wood chip. For more on this mushroom go to my blog here.

Weraroa erythrocephala [scarlet pouch] – in the wood chip mulch and in litter in mixed forest.

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Clitocybe nebularis [cloudy funnelcap] – not so much in the garden as down the bank in the bush. Large mushrooms up 25cm diameter and usually in groups or even arranged in arcs in the bush.

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Lacramaria lacrymabunda [weeping widow] – solid mushrooms, with a shaggy surface, mottled blackish kills, and a fibrous ring at top of stem. This is the first collection of this species at Otari.

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Beech (Nothofagus) grove – this grove was planted as beech is not native to the Wellington peninsular. We haven’t in the past found much here but being a month later there is a lot more to be seen.

Russula acrolamellata [ugly chalkcap]. This mushroom has a brown to golden cap and white stem. Like all chalk cap the stem snaps when bent. If you are prepared to chew a little of the gill tissue on the tip of your tongue it should be quite hot hence the name acrolamellata or acrid gills. We also saw it under kanuka.

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Amanita nothofagi [charcoal flycap] – this is an mycorrhizal species which means it is only found growing on the roots of southern beech or teatree. It is related to the scarlet flycap, with its red cap and white warts, seen under pines. Several mushrooms were present.

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Coprinellus (Coprinus) disseminatus [sociable inkcap] – A common inkcap found growing on dead wood in all kinds of habitats.

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Tylopylus brunneus [cocoa bolete] – Last collected here in 2011. This bolete bruises blue-grey.

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I put the cut fruitbody, from above, on paper to dry and the fluid from it seeped into paper where it has reacted with the air and turned the classic blue of this reaction.

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Circular walk from Information Centre – this is an area of original broadleaf-podocarp forest but with an underplanted collection of plants that would be expected in this type of forest.

Micromphale sp. [garlic shanklet] – on bark of living totara. If you cup on of these mushroom in your hands and put your hands over your nose you can smell the distinct odour of gallic.

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Agaricus sp. [a mushroom] – Growing next to boardwalk in kauri litter. Tall brown mushroom. This is the first collection of this species at Otari. This is very similar to Marie Taylor’s collection GMT737 (PDD84327) which she collected in 1972 from under kauri in Northcote, Auckland.

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Lepiota sp. [a parasol] – This was growing under totara.

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Mycena pura [lilac helmet] – This distinctive lilac mushroom was growing in the leaf litter.

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Favolashia calocera (orange poreconch) – on fallen branches.

Agrocybe parasitica [tree swordbelt] – on living hardwood.

Agrocybes parasitica 2013

Heimiomyces neovelutipes [bush shank] – Growing on decaying wood.

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Armillaria novaezelandae [olive honeycap] – on rotten wood.

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Mycena sp. [a helmet] – A very dark coloured Mycena growing on wood. It is similar to Ian Hoods figure 143. It also looks like Jerry Cooper’s  Mycena sp. ‘Ahuriri Reserve (PDD80918)’.

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Lentinellus novae-zelandiae [bush shiitake] – on rotting log.

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The postman rings again

I thought I would take the opportunity to clear my inbox and share the treasures with.

13 May

I was sent this photo of boletes collected from under oaks in Hagley Park in Christchurch. The characteristic features of these boletes are the finally cracking cap surface exposing the underlying flesh, the yellowish pore surface and upper stem and the reddish base to the stem.

Xerocomus chrysenteron (photo no credit)

Xerocomus chrysenteron (photo no credit)

I went back to the sender and asked if where the brown skin of the cap has cracked is the flesh underneath slightly pinkish or is it yellow? If you cut the stem lengthwise it should be reddish near the bottom, after a few minutes exposure to the air does the cut flesh turn bluish? His response was no to both questions. This does show the difficulty of identifying specimens that are past their prime. If we look at both characteristics in turn: The cracking of the cap is quite apparent but the exposure of the reddish underlying tissue is not reliable as it changes with the age. Also many of the description in fact say that the underlying tissue is only pinkish and usually only towards the margin of the cap. As these specimens look reasonably weather beaten and quite dry it is not surprising that the pinkish flesh is not obvious.

Xerocomus chrysenteron (photo no credit)

Xerocomus chrysenteron (photo no credit)

The second characteristic is the bluing of the bruised or cut flesh. While seeming a strong feature one description says “sometimes blueing when bruised” and “this reaction takes several seconds with the blueing never as intense”. Not a great character for beginners. If you look carefully at the tube surface of the two boletes in which this character can be seen you will see grey bruising on the pore surface where the bolete has been handled. In some species blue bruising can be greyish and/or be bluish initially then turn grey.

Given that I only have a photo my pick is that this is Xerocomus chrysenteron [red-cracked bolete]. The only other species which it could be is Xerocomus porosporus which I have only seen in Dunedin.

14 May

Gracie MacKinley found this large puffball in Greenhithe, Auckland. It is probably Calvatia craniiformis [brain puffball] however it would be difficult to identify as it is immature. You can tell this from the solid white flesh inside the puffball.

Calvatia craniiformis from above (photo Gracie MacKinley)

Calvatia craniiformis from above (photo Gracie MacKinley)

Calvatia craniiformis vertical section showing solid flesh(photo Gracie MacKinley)

Calvatia craniiformis vertical section showing solid flesh(photo Gracie MacKinley)

As the puffball matures the flesh will convert to spore producing cells. Each of these cells will produce four spores. Once the spores are developed they will dry out to become a powdery yellowish green mass inside the leathery shell of the puffball. Eventually the shell will break to release the spores to the wind. During the drying process the puffball becomes wrinkled like a human brain. The solid white flesh of the immature puffball of Calvatia craniiformis is edible.

19 May

Keelan Walker in Blenheim sent me these photos of a bolete under pines. I asked Keelan whether they were sticky on top or did it look like it could have been sticky because pine needle etc. have become firmly stuck to the cap? Did the stem look smooth or spotted with darker markings? When you cut through the flesh length-wise (cut it in two equal halves including the full length of the stem) does any of the cut flesh turn bluish or bluish-black?

Suillus granulatus, pore surface and stem (photo Keelan Walker)

Suillus granulatus, pore surface and stem (photo Keelan Walker)

Keelan responded “seems to be a sticky substance on the top and on the stem but I don’t notice any spots. When I cut it through the middle there is no blue/black colouring. There is a yellowish/sulphur type colouring tainting the flesh of the cap through”. All useful observations and indicate that this is Suillus granulatus [sticky-bun bolete].

Suillus granulatus, section through cap and stem (photo Keelan Walker)

Suillus granulatus, section through cap and stem (photo Keelan Walker)

18 May

Jan Nisbet photo, from the Whareroa Farm walk about 3.5 km north of Paekakariki, while not a fungus is topical at the moment.

Physarium cinereum (photo Jan and Toby Nesbet)

Physarium cinereum (photo Jan and Toby Nesbet)

This is a slime mould, Physarium cinereum, which is common at this time of the year on the blades of grass. Slime moulds live as free living organisms in the soil engulfing micro-organisms as a food source. When the reproductive urge takes hold they climb to a high place, in this case blades of grass, and convert, almost metamorphosis, into these rigid fungal like fruiting bodies. The fruitbodies will become hard, break and release spores to start the process again.

21 May

Ginelle Simoes left a message on my blog About page last night alerting me to mushrooms growing in the wood mulch under the pohutukawas at the intersection of Jervois Quay, Wakefield St and Taranaki St. Like any good mycologist I was down there at 9pm last night in the dark taking photos and collecting specimens. These were large white and brown, shaggy Chlorophyllum (Macrolepiota) rhacodes and smaller dark brown species of Agaricus. Chlorophyllum rhacodes is regularly eaten as are species of Agaricus (the mushrooms in the supermarket are a species of Agaricus).

Chlorophyllum rhacodes, large shaggy cap (photo Geoff Ridley)

Chlorophyllum rhacodes, large shaggy cap (photo Geoff Ridley)

Chlorophyllum rhacodes,young unopened cap (photo Geoff Ridley)

Chlorophyllum rhacodes,young unopened cap (photo Geoff Ridley)

Chlorophyllum rhacodes (photo Geoff Ridley)

Chlorophyllum rhacodes (photo Geoff Ridley)

Agaricus sp. (photo Geoff Ridley)

Agaricus sp. (photo Geoff Ridley)

Agaricus sp., showing ring still attached to edge of cap (photo Geoff Ridley)

Agaricus sp., showing ring still attached to edge of cap (photo Geoff Ridley)

Update 24 May 2013

Here is a closer view of the ‘double ring’ found in Chlorophyllum rhacodes as mentioned by Jerry in the correspondence below.

Chlorophylum rhacodes showing the double edge to the ring (photo Geoff Ridley)

Chlorophylum rhacodes showing the double edge to the ring (photo Geoff Ridley)


Pouch, secotioid, or sequestrate?

I was doing honours degree the year that the 13th International Botanical Congress was held in Sydney in 1981. Many foreign botanists and mycologist passed through New Zealand either on their way to the Congress or on their way home. One of these was Harry Thiers (Thiers and Halling 2003) who gave a presentation at Victoria University of Wellington on his research into secotioid fungi.

This group of fungi had for a long time been called tobacco pouch or pouch fungi. It obviously made sense way back when as tobacco pouches were common objects but in 1981 I had no idea what one was. It was wasn’t until the age of the internet that I saw that they were often small draw string bags that closed and created a pleated pouch very much like the form of this group of fungi. Here is an example of a linen tobacco pouch used by German soldiers during World War I which rather than a draw string has a brass ring to close it.

A German tobacco puch from WWI

A German tobacco puch from WWI

However by the 1950s it was realised that there were a group of pouch fungi that clustered, at least in their gross morphology, around the genus Secotium in the family Secotiaceae. Researchers such as A.H.Smith and Rolf Singer began to refer to them as secotiaceous and then secotioid fungi which simply mean Secotium-like. Secotium is from Greek and refers to the chambered internal flesh (the gleba). I have likened it to the appearance of aero-chocolate.

Slice through an aero-chocolate.

Slice through an aero-chocolate.

The chambered gleba or spore forming tissue of a Thaxterogaster

The chambered gleba or spore forming tissue of a Thaxterogaster

Unfortunately names have a limited life and in 1992 Kendrick introduced the term ‘sequestrate’ for this grouping. It refers to the sequestered or hidden away spores which can only be released when the fruitbody rots or is eaten.

During this time it was realised that the members of the sequestrate fungi were not closely related to each other but more closely related to normal mushrooms based on spore characteristcs. Thus the sequestrate genus Secotium has similar spores to the mushroom genus Agaricus, and Thaxterogaster has the same spore form as Cortinarius. The big question was which way had evolution proceeded? Was the sequestrate form the ancient form with the aero-like gleba evolving into gills or did the aero-like gleba represent the failure of gills to develop. The general consensus today is that the sequestrate form has evolved from the mushroom form by the fusion of gill tissue to form a gleba and the loss of a mechanism to flick spores into the air.

Purple Cortinarius (Photo Don Horne)

Purple Cortinarius (Photo Don Horne)

Purple Thaxterogaster (Photo Don Horne)

Purple Thaxterogaster (Photo Don Horne)

There are two interesting things to consider about sequestrate fungi. The first is that a great many species can be found in the dry eucalypt forest and the desert of Australia. This has led to the idea that the sequestrate form has evolved to protect the gills and the forming spores from dehydration and death by keeping them enclosed in the moist gleba.

The second thing is the loss of the ability to release spores which has been compensated for by the sequestrate fungi being very attractive food for animals and in particular mammals. Some very interesting work has been done in Australia to show the importance of potoroos and bettongs, small herbivorous marsupials, in the dispersal of these fungi (Lepp 2012). This is mirrored on other continents where rodents such as squirrels gather and hide sequestrate fungi. Many of these fungi are not colourful and have scents to attract the mammals.

But this leaves a big question, New Zealand is not dry and does not have any native mammals so why do we have so many species of sequestrate fungi? One possibility is that despite there being plenty of water New Zealand vegetation suffered from physiological drought during the long period of glaciation of the ice ages. For instance during the last glacial maximum 21 thousand years ago much of New Zealand was was dominated by cool grasslands and shrublands with only small isolated forest pockets. It could easily be imagined how sequestrate forms would evolve to cope with these cool conditions.

Vegetation of New Zealand 21,000 years ago (Newnham, McGlone, Moar, Wimhurst and Vandergoes 2012)

Vegetation of New Zealand 21,000 years ago (Newnham, McGlone, Moar, Wimhurst and Vandergoes 2012)

However the problem of spore dispersal persists as there were no mammals. As noted above many of the mammal dispersed sequestrate fungi are not colourful. This is in stark contrast to the New Zealand species which are brightly coloured. This led Ross Beaver (1993) to suggest that these were typical bird attracting colours and that birds might be the dispersal agent for the spores. He suggested that these fungi were mimicking fruits and berries and here is his photo of Weraoa erythrocephala with the fruits of supplejack (Ripogonum scandens) and miro (Prumnopitys ferruginea).

Weraoa erythrocephala with the fruits of supplejack (Ripogonum scandens) and miro (Prumnopitys ferruginea) (Photo Ross Beever)

Weraoa erythrocephala with the fruits of supplejack (Ripogonum scandens) and miro (Prumnopitys ferruginea) (Photo Ross Beever)

Given that no bird species living in New Zealand are known to eat sequestrate fungi Ross speculated that it might have been the now extinct large, flightless ratites, the moa, that inhabited New Zealand up until fairly recently.

The upland moa Megalapteryx didinus (Illustration Peter Schouten)

The upland moa Megalapteryx didinus (Illustration Peter Schouten)

Usually when I tell this story I finish by saying that while it is an interesting story we can never know the answer without a living moa to observe. Then a few months ago I saw the following picture of the Queensland ratite, the cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), feeding on quandong fruit (Elaeocarpus angustifolius).

World Press Photo competition 2013, Nature, 1st prize singles, Christian Ziegler

World Press Photo competition 2013, Nature, 1st prize singles, Christian Ziegler

The quandong fruit look like Thaxterogaster (Cortinarius porphyroideus) so it becomes easy to imagine moa being attracted to them and acting as the spore disperser.

Cortinarius porphyroideus

Cortinarius porphyroideus

References
Beever, RE 1993. Dispersal of truffle-like fungi in New Zealand. In Hill RS Southern Temperate Ecosystems: Origin and Diversification 22. Hobart, Australia.

Kendrick, B. 1992. The Fifth Kingdom. 2nd Edition. Mycologue Publications, 8727 Lochside Dr., Sidney, BC V8L 1M8, Canada.

Kubasik M 2013. Pommersches Pionier Bataillon Nr. 2. http://pommerschespionier.com/index.php/collection/various/tobacco-pouch/

Lepp H 2013. Australian fungi: fungal ecology: fungi and vertebrates. Australian National Botanic Gardens and Australian National Herbarium, Canberra. http://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/ecology-vertebrates.html

Newnham R, McGlone M, Moar N, Wimhurst J, Vandergoes M 2012. The vegetation cover of New Zealand at the last glacial maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews. In press.

Schouten P No date. Peter Schouten Wildlife Artist. http://www.studioschouten.com.au/

TerraNature Trust 2010. New Zealand ecology: flightless
birds. http://terranature.org/moa.htm

Thiers BM, Halling RE 2003. Harry D. Thiers, 1919-2000. Mycologia 95: 1271-1275.

Ziegler C 2013. World Press Photo competition
2013, Nature, 1st prize singles, Christian Ziegler. http://www.worldpressphoto.org/awards/2013/nature/christian-ziegler


The drought has broken

April saw a significant break in what has been described the worst drought in 30 years for New Zealand. However as the MetService pointed out for Wellington the rain came but it just didn’t come very evenly.

Figure-2a

The rain that has arrived in April, along with the cooling temperatures, has seen a flush of mushrooms. The pictures below followed the two days of rain that fell in Marlborough, 20-21 April 2013. They are two species of coprinoid mushrooms that had in the past been known as Coprinus but now are placed in the genera Parasola and Coprinellus.

Parasola plicata (Japanese-unbrella inkcap): Generally recorded from lawns and grass you can see that in these photos that it also occurs in garden amongst exotic shrubs and bulbs such as grape hyacinths. This is a small, up to about 20mm diameter, delicate mushroom. They usually appear overnight and can be gone within a few hours.

Parasola01

Parasola plicata, top of cap (Photo Lorraine McMath, 21 April 2013, Blenheim)

Parasola 02

Parasola plicata (Photo Lorraine McMath, 21 April 2013, Blenheim)

Parasola 03

Parasola plicata (Photo Lorraine McMath, 21 April 2013, Blenheim)

Coprinellus micaceus (glistening inkcap): I um’ed and ah’ed over this one as it can be very difficult to make an identification from a photo. I finally came to the conclusion that it was the glistening inkcap and that it is probably growing on dead woody roots under the grass. Normally you would expect to see glistening mica-like particles on the cap surface however these can be quickly lost especially during rain as in this case. What really threw me was the third photo which I think was taken without a flash so that the brown colours are lost and the hygrophanous drying (the paling of the cap) is emphasised. Initially I thought that this might be a third species.

Coprinella 04

Coprinellus micaceus (Photo Lorraine McMath, 21 April 2013, Blenheim)

Coprinella 06

Coprinellus micaceus (Photo Lorraine McMath, 21 April 2013, Blenheim)

Coprinella 05

Coprinellus micaceus, greyish looking as no flash used (Photo Lorraine McMath, 21 April 2013, Blenheim)

As this is my first full mushroom blog for the 2013 season here is a catch-up of some of stragglers that have been about over the last month.

Agaricus campestris (horse mushroom): This large mushroom was growing in my backyard at the seep line at the base of a garden retaining wall. Marie Taylor (1981) describes the ring as “double, and consists of a smooth upper membrane with a circle of thick, cottony patches marking the tips of a cogwheel pattern”. These cottony patches can be clearly seen in the photo of the overturned mushroom.

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Agaricus campestris (Photo Geoff Ridley, 24 February 2013, Renwick)

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Agaricus campestris (Photo Geoff Ridley, 24 February 2013, Renwick)

Paxillus involutus (birch rollrim): This common fungus is found associated with the roots of birch (Betula pendular). It is easily recognised by its slightly funnelled shape cap with the rolled under margin, its gills running down the stem (decurrent), and its brown spore print. This group was growing in the garden above the horse mushroom.

Rollrim 01

Paxillus involutus, showing rolled under rim to cap (Photo Geoff Ridley, 11 April 2013, Renwick)

Rollrim 02

Paxillus involutus, showing decurrent gills (Photo Geoff Ridley, 11 April 2013, Renwick)

Rollrim 03

Paxillus involutus, showing brown spore print on surface of the cap (Photo Geoff Ridley, 11 April 2013, Renwick)

Leucoagaricus naucinus (smooth parasol) [= Leucoagaricus leucothites]: This all white species including a white spore print was growing a well mulched flower bed. These are common but usually only in ones or twos.

Naucina 01

Leucoagaricus naucinus (Photo Geoff Ridley, 28 April 2013, Renwick)

Naucina 02

Leucoagaricus naucinus (Photo Geoff Ridley, 28 April 2013, Renwick)

Thelephora terrestris: This little fungus was given to me by Ricardo Palma, Curator of Insects at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. It was growing on his lawn in Waikanae about 4m from a liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua) and a northern hemisphere beech (Fagus sp.). It is known to be associated with the roots (ectomycorrhizal) on many species including birch. This specimen is also old and ratty looking and has split into many lobes compared to the one at the Californian fungi website which has a perfect margin. This is one of the many problems in identifying from photos in guide books and website as the old and the ratty seldom get there photos published.

Telephora 01

Thelephora terrestris, fruitbody in profile (Photo Raymond Coory, Te Papa)

Telephora 02

Thelephora terrestris, fruitbody from above (Photo Raymond Coory, Te Papa)

Taylor, M. 1981. Mushrooms and Toadstools. A.H. and A.W. Reed Ltd: Wellington, New Zealand.


The End of Latin

As of 1 January 2012 there is no longer a mandatory requirement in the botanical code of nomenclature for a newly described species to have a Latin description. The requirement had been in place since 1935. Much of the classic botanical literature had been published in Latin as it was the language of learning. Also because Latin was a dead language it was believed that its meaning was fixed and would not drift through usage as is the case with modern languages. However, it had become a burden as there are fewer and fewer scientists skilled in Latin so becomeing a publication bottleneck for many researchers.

When I did my PhD I described 10 new species of Amanita and one Squamanita species. With a Latin dictionary I can translate a simple Latin description. If it is more complex I tend to get lost in the grammar. I drafted very simple Latin descriptions but did not attempt to correct the grammar as this was beyond me. Instead I asked my mother-in-law, Ruth Patterson, to do it for me as she had an MA from the University of Otago in Latin. I was always very grateful for the help she gave me.

Latin txt

My attempt at a Latin description in black and Ruth’s corrections in pencil.

Ruth Catherine Macmillan Patterson (nee Sewell) died Good Friday, 2013.

Ruth's capping, 8 May, VE Day, 1945

Ruth’s capping, 8 May, VE Day, 1945

To quote from my wife Rachel’s eulogy to her mother:

She was happy at high school, made good friends and was academically successful. When she finished school in 1941 Aunty Glen, who was married and living in Dunedin, said that Mum should live with them and attend Otago University and Mum’s parents agreed.
In those days, to enrol, you had to go and see each of your professors. On Mum’s first day she couldn’t manage to track any of them down and went home despondent. Glen consoled her, but as Mum headed out the door the next day she said “I wonder if the staff will all hide from you today?”

Mum loved university – she liked the academic challenge, she loved the polite and interesting professors and she truly loved living with Glen and Les and their children. She left at the end of 1945, when she was twenty-one, with an MA in Latin and English, and went the next year to Auckland Teachers’ Training College.

This was one of the most fun years of her life. She stayed in a hostel with other women teacher trainees and she made friends for life. There were men at the Training College who were back from the war and Mum loved their irreverent attitude to life and particularly to the college. She enjoyed herself.

And

From when Geoff and I first met he and Mum got on well. They argued endlessly about the English language, she translated his scientific findings into Latin for publication and they enjoyed each other’s company.

This is a tribute to Ruth and her contribution to New Zealand mycology. At the time of the funeral the Amanita muscaria was fruiting under the Nothofagus menzeisii and N. solandri  in Baring Square West, Ashburton.

Amanita muscaria under Nothofagus, Baring Square, Ashburton, 5 April 2012

Amanita muscaria under Nothofagus, Baring Square, Ashburton, 5 April 2012

Ridley, G.S. 1988. Squamanita squarrulosa, a new species from New Zealand. Persoonia 13: 459-462.
Ridley, G.S. 1991a. The New Zealand species of Amanita (Fungi: Agaricales). Australian Systematic Botany 4: 325-354.


Split gills and Peruvian sleepers

Train crossing Paramata bridge, in the Evening Post 3 Oct 1936 (National Library of New Zealand 1/2-065462-F)

There has been a lot of discussion / argument about the management and sale of state owned assets over the last six months (see bowalleyroad). And over the last month the management of one of these assets, KiwiRail, has been subject to questions in Parliament. These questions have been triggered by a fungus, more specifically fungal decay in timber sleepers.

Decaying sleeper (Photo Sunlive)

Of the six million sleepers in use in the New Zealand rail network of which 7000 (0.12%) are showing some degree of decay. These sleepers where obtained from Peru and initially the fungal decay was attributed to Schizophyllum commune. I have blogged about this species before. It is a common fungus on wood in New Zealand and was frequently intercepted at the ports on pallets, packing cases and dunnage. Sleepers are expected to meet an Australian standard requiring that they last at least 15 years. It is thought that new sleepers already had significant but not visible decay.

Schizophyllum commune (Photo Don Horne)

Since the mid 1990s wood has been considered as a possible pathway for pest insects and fungal pathogens to spread around the world. This has resulted in countries imposing standards for the treatment of wood either chemically or by heating before it is allowed entry. For instances the Ministry for Primary Production has issued a standard for the treatment of poles, piles, rounds, and sleepers. For instance new or unused wood items can be fumigated with methyl bromide at 80 g/m2 more than 24 continuous hours at 10°C or heated for 4 hours at a minimum continuous core temperature of 70°C. It can only be assumed that the treatment of these sleepers was not done correctly.

In itself Schizophyllum commune is not of concern to New Zealand however further testing of the sleepers has shown the presence of two other species not known to occur in New Zealand. Which species has not been said?

Historically there has always been a preference to use jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) as it is very durable and resistant to decay, even in wet and weathered situations, making it a choice structural material for bridges, wharves, railway sleepers and telephone poles. Less durable timbers have also been used by treating them with chemicals.

Felling jarrah near Jarrahdale, Western Australia (Photo Battye Library)

Controversy over sleepers is not new and during the 1913  New Zealand Royal Commission on Forestry the commissioners examined alternative timbers for use as sleepers and chemical preservatives. One preserving process was Powellisation. According to a report in The Advertiser (Adelaide, 23 February 1914) this process required the sleepers to be boiled in an arsenic and sugar solution.

In The Age (Melbourne, 2 December 1913) there is a report of the Royal Commission’s hearing. Here it is noted that:

The evidence shows that both in the molasses vat for steeping green timber and expelling the sap, and in the drying kilns afterwards, the process needs to be applied with great care.

While he could not express a definite opinion as to its ultimatesuccess or failure, powellisation up to now had been anything but a success.

Powellisation was unsuccessful and the process and the name have been forgotten and it does not appear in any historical reviews on timber preservation.

However the virtues of jarrah were extolled:

The department [of Works] bought as many jarrah sleepers as they could get the Government to import, the cost being 4/9 each delivered. The latter, he considered, was the best timber for durability which they used. In one line 75 per cent. of the sleepers cut from this timber were found to be fit for use after being in the line for 30 years.

The suitability of eucalypt timber and the failure of the Peruvian timber has highlighted the potential to grow eucalypts on a bigger commercial scale then is done presently. One example is the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative which is selecting and breeding eucalypt species suitable for growing on drought- and erosion-prone farmland in Marlborough, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, the Wairarapa and Canterbury.

I have blogged before on the importance of eucalypts in the New Zealand landscape and the fungi associated with them.

Eucalypt, Christchurch botanical gardens (Photo Pinwheel)


Yellow rain and ink caps

New Zealand has 1,556,000 ha planted in Pinus radiata (Monterey pine) production plantations. It was once claimed that New Zealand had the largest man-made forest in the world was – Kaingaroa Forest in the central North Island, measures around 2,900 km2. These forests begin to release vast amounts of wind dispersed pollen in August each year. Last Saturday saw the first of the spring Nor’wester winds, the South Island of New Zealand’s equivalent of the foehn winds. This got the pollen flying but was then followed by a day of rain that collected the pollen in puddles.

Pine pollen stream along the gutter (Photo Geoff Ridley)

The rain also brought a fruiting of Coprinus comatus (shaggy inkcap). This clump appeared in Frank Kitts Park, a narrow strip of parkland between Wellington harbour shoreline and the six lanes of Jervois Quay a busy arterial road. The clump formed in the lawn near the base of a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla).

Frank Kitts Park (Photo Waterfront Watch)

This species has probably been introduced into New Zealand as it occurs with exotic vegetation in parks, gardens, pastures, and road sides rather than in native vegetation. They are easily recognised by their large size, up to 180 mm tall, and by their shaggy and distinctively cylindrical shaped cap. As with all true inkcaps, the caps undergo autodigestion – turning into a black inky liquid. They are considered edible although only before the autodigestion begins.

Coprinus comatus (shaggy inkcap) (Photo Geoff Ridley)


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