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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Taylor, M. 1981. Mushrooms and Toadstools. A.H. and A.W. Reed Ltd: Wellington, New Zealand.
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.
Ruth Catherine Macmillan Patterson (nee Sewell) died Good Friday, 2013.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
New Zealand has for the last two weeks been drenched by late winter / early spring rain. This has been ideal conditions to get the first of the spring fungi fruiting.In Wellington where I work the City Council has been refurbishing apartment blocks that it owns. These refurbishment are not just only the building but also includes the re-landscaping the surrounding grounds. One recently completed refurbishment includes the mulching of gardens with wood chip. So following the recent rain this fresh mulch erupted in mushrooms. The property manager for the building was concerned about them and contacted me to identify them. The mushrooms were garden swordbelts [Agrocybe praecox] which I blogged about last year. Species of Agrocybe are generally considered edible and not poisonous and they are also nothallucinogenic.
The garden swordbelt is usually the first mushroom species to fruit on fresh mulch and will usually have disappeared after two years to be followed by other species such as Stropharia aurantiaca the scarlet roundhead.
Sven Berggren was a Swedish botanist, explorer and later a university professor who visited New Zealand in 1874 and 1875.
He arrived in Lyttleton Harbour by ship from London on Thursday 1 January 1874:
Finally at 10 o’clock the pilot arrived on board. He had seen my name in the newspaper and we anchored in the harbour at noon. Regatta. People from everywhere. … Also saw some Maoris. (Translation by Macnamara 1969)
I ‘discovered’ Berggren when I was working on the genus Armillaria and was trying to establish the identity and collecting site of the first published record. This first record was published by Cooke (1879) in which he identified the fungi collected by Berggren:
Agaricus (Armillaria) melleus. Vahl. Fr.; Epic., p.23. On trunks. Maungaroa (144).
But where was Maungaroa? The New Zealand Gazetteer has 12 places with the name Maungaroa in a triangle formed by Mt Ruapehu, East Cape and Cape Reinga, i.e. the upper half of the North Island of New Zealand. But which, if any, of these was Berggren’s collecting locality? So this was not of much help.
David Galloway, New Zealand lichenologist, told me of a paper by Helbrom (1896) who identified Berggren’s lichen collections and listed his collecting sites. David gave me a copy of Helbrom’s paper that he had annotated with dates from Berggren’s diary (McNamara 1969). According to Helbrom Maungaroa was in the Wellington Province and that he visited this locality in June 1874 and again 17 February 1875. Based on this the nearest Maungaroa is in the central North Island and just inside the northern boundary of the Wellington Province. However this location was too far away from Wellington for him to have travelled there in the time available.
I next looked at McNamara’s English translation of the diary and using the annotated dates from the Helbrom paper to identify where Maungaroa was I found the following comments:
Went to Mangarua [sic] (and Hutt) Saturday 4 July.
Then after arriving in Tauranga 11 February 1875 he had an “Excursion to Maungaroa” on 17 February 1875. Obviously these represent two different locations, the first in the Hutt valley near Wellington and the second near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty.
At this point it became apparent that only dated specimens would sort this quandary. Inquiries at Herbarium PDD, Auckland and the Botanical Museum, Lund confirmed the lack of dates on the majority of Bergren’s specimens.
Serendipitously while trying to identify a specimen of Paxillus I found the following note (McNabb 1969):
There is some doubt as to the geographical position of the type locality. Hughes (1966) concluded that “Maungaroa” was an error for Mangaroa, a locality near Wellington.
Hughes (1966) said:
It is quite likely that the locality “Maungaroa” is an error for “Mangaroa”. Maungaroa is mentioned in an enumeration, included by Hellbom (1896), of localities where Berggren collected; it is described as “Mons dense silvosus prope Wellington septentrionem versus”. Dr R. Santesson kindly informed me that a Berggren collection of Bactridium magnum preserved in Herb. UPS, is labelled “Maungaroa prope Wellington, Novae Zelandiae, Julio 1874”. “Maungaroa” is surely an error for Mangaroa [Hill] (Wellington Province, ca. 25 miles NE of Wellington) (ef. Dollimore. 1962).
So it would appear that the collection labels had been tidied up and a consistent but incorrected place name was used for Mangaroa. So now I had a location and a date. So what was Mangaroa like in 1874. I found these photos in the Te Papa Museum and National Library collection. It shows a land in transition as the bushcleared for farming.
The native bush did survive on the land that was too steep and rugged for farming and within a few kilometres of Mangaroa there is still largely intact piece of bush in the Kaitoke Regional Park. This bush continued to survive because it became a water catchment reserve for the growing urban areas of the Hutt valley and Wellington. The bush is a mixture of beech forest and broadleaf-podocarp forest.
It is curious that Swede, with a heritage of Norse mythology, should end up collecting mushrooms so near Kaitoke which was Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was fascination with Norse mythology which he drew for inspiration in Lord of the Rings. Now whenever I collect in beech (Nothofagus) forest I expect to run into at least a dwarf, if not a hobbit
Cooke MC 1879. New Zealand fungi. Grevillea 8: 54-69.
Hellbom PJ 1896. Lichenæa neo-zeelandica. a Sv. Berggren annis 1874-75 collecti: additis ceteris speciebus indidem huc usque cognitis, breviter commemoratis. Stockholm, PA Norstedt.
Hughes SJ 1966. New Zealand Fungi. 8. Bactridium Kunze. New Zealand Journal of Botany 4: 522-532.
McNabb RFR 1969. The Paxillaceae of New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Botany 7: 349-362.