There won’t be many New Zealanders’ who didn’t follow the life and love of Murray Ball’s (1939-2017) Wal Footrot and the Dog in Footrot Flats. As Shaun Bamber wrote:
When I was 11, I bought a copy of Murray Ball’s first Footrot Flats book off a classmate at school for $2.50 and a pack of sandwiches. It’s sitting here beside me right now as I write these words.
I was already well familiar with The Dog, Wal and the rest of the Footrot crew by then of course – had in fact been almost obsessively collecting the anthologies ever since some relative or other got me one to read while recovering from getting my tonsils out.
And in a great blog looking at the history and reason for the popularity of Footrot Flats by Bob from Temuka wrote:
And that popularity was deserved, because it was a rich strip from a simpler, less media-saturated time. It did romanticise the rural lifestyle, but never hid the dirt and filth of the farmyard. Ball, who lived the life he drew about, could get into devilish detail on a rotting goat’s carcass, or a steaming pile of rank manure – everyday sights for the farmer, but endearingly shocking to everybody else. You could smell the silage in the ink, and that gave the strip a raw, sketchy vitality It was also wildly popular because the characters were so recognisable, (at least in NZ). There was the upright farmer, the hippie neighbour, the cheeky hussy, the stern Aunt and the pampered pet. And there was the Dog.
I have three comic strips cut from 1982 editions of the Wellington Evening Post. They are badly yellowed from years of hanging on my office wall. I don’t know if they were ever reprinted in the many Footrot Flats’ anthologies? So here is the Dog’s thoughts on mushrooms.
Flat hunting in Otago
My son is moving down to Dunedin to start his PhD. So he and I went down last weekend to find a flat. We found one just above the town belt and a 16 minute walk from the University of Otago central library.
It was also a chance to walk along Queens Drive which meanders through the town belt that separates the city on the flat from the hill suburbs above. I first walked this way when I had just finished my PhD and had my first job lecturing in the Botany Department here.
The enjoyment of walks and rambles …
The reason for walking the town belt this time was to get some photos for a blog about Helen Kirkland Dalrymple. My first encounter with her writing was reading Fungus Hunting in Otago, New Zealand during my PhD. It’s a slim book of 30 pages published in Dunedin in 1940. And, ignoring scientific publications, is the first popular book of fungi to be published in New Zealand. In fact, there would not be another until 1970 when Marie Taylor’s Mushrooms and Toadstools in New Zealand was published.
All I know about Helen Dalrymple came from a ‘gallery of naturalists’ that Otago Museum has on its top floor in the old wing. If anyone has a photo of her I would love to see it [see PS below]. The museum exhibit had this to say:
Helen Kirkland Dalrymple (c. 1883-1943)
Was an enthusiastic botanist. She was born in Birmingham but spent her early years at Puerua, near Balclutha, where her father was Presbyterian minister. In 1898 she began attending Otago Girls High School, and in 1902 was awarded the Women’s Scholarship at Otago University. She graduated BA in 1906 and taught at Winton and Napier.
In 1913 she joined the staff of Otago Girls High School and taught English, Latin and Botany for 25 years. It is mainly as a botanist that she is remembered, particularly for her field trips, expeditiously arranging forays into the Town Belt to fit into an hour long lesson or longer excursions to Signal Hill in search of ground orchids.
Helen Dalrymple spent many hours on her delicate water colours, mainly of native plants, which she later used to illustrate her books, Orchid Hunting in Otago (1937) and Fungus Hunting in Otago (1940).
A keen member of the Naturalist Field Club she was regarded as a local authority on orchids and mycology. Gentle in speech and manner, she nevertheless had great determination and strength of character and when in 1915, and later in 1941, it was suggested that the club go into recess it was largely owing to her efforts that it kept going.
Miss Finlayson was afraid to open the box
I love Helen’s writing style and casualness and think if she was alive today she would be a blogger:
Earth stars are delightful objects. The first one I ever saw was picked up by an enthusiastic Field Clubber many years ago on his Sunday afternoon walk round the Town Belt. He put it carefully in a matchbox, took it to church that evening, and passed the box on to Miss Finlayson who happened to be sitting in the same seat. At first Miss Finlayson was afraid to open the box, thinking some strange insect might jump out; but finally she did and later handed the specimen over to me for recording.
Helen included a number of line drawings in her book the last was this view towards Otago Boys High with the tower visible above the bush. We went seeking this view but I think that Moana Pool has been built across it and this was the best I could do.
Dalrymple, HK, 1940. Fungus Hunting in Otago, New Zealand. Coulls Somerville Wilkie Limited, Dunedin
PS 18 September 2016
Conor sent a link to this picture of Helen Kirkland Dalrymple
The photo and the comment about her school field trips to the town belt remind me of Ronald Searle’s Belles of St Trinian’s cartoons.
From the Gisborne Herald 20 August 2016:
A slow but certain interest in dairy sheep has started to build throughout New Zealand as some cornerstone corporate farmers cement the industry’s footing as a viable pastoral alternative to traditional land uses. … Globally the dairy sheep market is estimated to be worth US$8 billion at the farm gate …….
The summer of ’92
In the summer of 1992-1993 I was living and working at an AgResearch research farm, Flock House, in the Rangitikei. This was a period of massive restructuring in government science organisations and funding. It was the beginning of the modern period where incremental science became a dirty word and it was all about innovation and what would become ‘disruptive’ science.One project the organisation was working on was the development of a flock of ewes for milking. To maintain lactation the lambs were removed from the ewes soon after birth. The lambs were kept in a big, covered, concrete floored yards to which my lab was attached. The floor of the yards had been boxed with slabs of untreated, rough cut Pinus radiata to create a bed that was about 20 cm deep. These beds were then filled with pine wood chips which formed a deep litter system to raise the lambs on. The wood chips absorbed the urine from the lambs.
A flash of yellow
After a few weeks of the lambs being penned on the litter I saw a bright yellow boletes growing on the wood chips. It completely confused me as at that time I only knew boletes to be mycorrhizal and not saprobic on wood. I could not identify it so filed it away.
I’ve seen you before!
That is until 2009 when I saw a picture of Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus in the Field Mycologist (Weightman, 2009). Here was a picture of a bright yellow bolete with the caption: “This painting of Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus is one of the earliest known of this rare species which grows on heaps of old sawdust“. And the text said of it:
Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus (as Boletus sulfureus). An important early illustration of this rarity. It was sent from Brandon, Norfolk, Nov 3, 1876 by Plowright who probably also supplied the comment “from sawdust heaps only seen by Fries himself once”.
Searching back through the literature I had to hand I found the comment: “Buchwaldoboletus (Boletaceae). This genus is world-wide although there are only a few constituent members; all grow generally on gymnospermic woods“. (Watling, 2002)
I have no doubt that I found my fungus. Given the bright yellow fruitbody it is surprising that we don’t see a lot more of this species in New Zealand. Particularly with the use of pine wood chip as garden much. A possibility is that it was the high nitrogen content in the litter from the lambs’ urine that triggered the fungus to fruit.
I also isolated managed to isolate it into culture and it has survived. It is slow growing and only forms a small mycelium and stains the media dark brown.
Watling R, 2002. One bolete genus or …? Field Mycology 3: 84-88
Weightman J, 2009. Dr Bull’s paintings of fungi. Field Mycology 10: 113-121. [particularly p. 11]
Twenty years ago when I was working for the Forest Health group at the New Zealand Forest Research Institute in Rotorua I received a letter from Frank Blom who lived in Awanui, Northland. Frank said:
In Nov, ’95 I noticed some 50 to 60 ‘glow worms’ on the bark of living Golden Willows in my place on the alluvial flats along the Awanui River.
They were clearly visible 2 to 3m away, but the source of the light could not be found by torchlight. A magnifying-glass however showed tiny mushrooms. By 25th Dec. there were only a few left and I brought one inside by breaking off a piece of bark.
I wrote back that it was probably an undescribed species of Mycena and that I was not aware that any of the described New Zealand species were bioluminescent. The closest species, geographically, to New Zealand at that time was Mycena chlorophanus from Queensland.
More recently I came across a blog by Anna Chinn who blogged about a night-time excursion to Matawai, near Gisborne in search of glowing tree ferns. In fact the glow came from a Mycena rotting the dead fronds skirting the trunk of Cyathea smithii. Not only does the mushroom glow but so too does the fungal hyphae growing through the dead frond.
The Mycena in question goes by the working name of Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ which is the location (Waipori/Crystal Falls, Otago) that it was collected from and first suspected to be a new species. It has been collected from the deep south to the far north. It has been found growing on the ferns Cyathea medullaris, Cyathea smithii, Blechnum sp., on the natives Ripogonum scandens and Metrosideros excelsa, and the exotic Salix fragilis.
Fungi at War
In general bioluminescent fungi are not obvious in New Zealand. Ian Hood (1992) wrote:
Fresh Armillaria-decayed wood is bioluminescent and can be seen glowing eerily along bush-tracks on dark nights.
While Peter Buchanan (2006) said of Armillaria decay:
Decayed wood when fresh emits a weak light (bioluminescence), the glow visible in forests on dark nights.
John Ramsbottom in 1923 in A Handbook of the Larger British Fungi wrote about luminosity of decaying wood. He said that it had been known from classical times and referred by Aristotle. He gave many examples of its use through time but only one really comes close to home when he talks about World War I:
In many places on the Western front during the war our troops found luminous wood useful for putting in the straps of their steel helmets and on the fore-sights of their rifles.
In the New Zealand context Steven Brightwell (1993) wrote:
World War One soldiers nailed bits of fungus-infested wood to their helmets and bayonets. The phosphorescent fungi, glowing faintly in the dark, provided enough light to enable the soldiers to avoid collisions in the trenches, but not enough to make them targets for the enemy.
I haven’t been able to find any direct reference to this practice by New Zealand troops – if you have let me know where.
Brightwell, S 1993. Feasting on fungi. New Zealand Geographic 18 (June): 34-58
Buchanan, P 2006. Fungal Biodiversity. In Parsons, S., Blanchon, D., Buchanan, P., Clout, M., Galbraith, M., Weihong, J., Macdonald, J., Walker, M, Wass, R, 2006. Biology Aotearoa. Pearson Education New Zealand. ISBN 1 877268 00 3. Pp 72-83
Hood, I 1993. An illustrated guide to fungi on wood in New Zealand. Auckland University Press.
Here is Taylor Lockwood’s photo of Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ that Jerry Cooper mentions in his comment below.
I posed the question to myself – if I had to pick 10 fungi to epitomise mycology in New Zealand what would they be and why would I choose them? In some cases I have blogged about them before and some I will do so in the future. So here is my choice.
1. Amanita muscaria is number one as this exotic fungus would be one of the most obvious and abundant mushrooms in our autumn landscape. It is beneficial in that it is an ectomycorrhizal fungus and is important in enhancing the growth of our pine and Douglas-fir plantations.
2. Armillaria novae-zelandiae and Armillaria limonea are two native species that have wreaked havoc in our tree plantations and kiwifruit orchards. They actively attack the roots and root collar of wood plants and are capable of killing them.
3. Entoloma hochstteri – this beautiful blue native mushroom is every ones holy grail to find. It is also the only mushroom to appear on currency, NZ$50, anywhere in the world. See Hochstetter’s blue pinkgill.
4. Pithomyces chartarum is an exotic microfungus that you will never see that decomposes dead grass. However, it can produce spores in great numbers at times, such as this year, and causes the disease known as facial eczema in sheep and cattle. The spores contain a toxin which can severely damage the liver of the affected animal and can lead to death. See Brown Grenades.
5. Gloeophyllum sepiarium, Gloeophyllum trabeum, Oligoporus placenta and Antrodia sinuosa – I am treating this functional group of four native wood decay fungi as one. They cause cubical brown rot and are the most prevalent species causing damage in leaky house syndrome in New Zealand. They rose to prominence in the 1990s after changes in building regulations saw the use of unsuitable material and building styles resulting in buildings not being weather proof. See Fungi in leaky homes.
6. Ileodictyon cibarium is our most common native stinkhorn and once seen never forgotten. I included this one as it one of the few species that has some Maori lore associated with it so bridges the gap between traditional knowledge and western science.
7. Neotyphodium lolii is another exotic microfungus that you will never see but which has had a significant effect in New Zealand pastoral farming. The fungus is an endophyte growing between the cells in a ryegrass plant. It produces a toxin that affects the nervous system of grazing animals. Modern ryegrass cultivars have been bred and inoculated with non-toxic strains of Neotyphodium lolii to overcome this significant disease.
8. Cyttaria gunnii is a distinctive Gondwanan element of our fungal flora. It is a parasite on southern beech [Nothofagus]. Cyttaria species occur in New Zealand, Tasmania, SE Australia, and southern Chile and Argentina. See Cyttaria galls on silver beech.
9. Auricularia cornea is a very common native wood decay fungus and was the basis of the first fungal export industry in New Zealand. See Taranaki wool.
10. Melampsora larici-populina is an exotic fungus causing rust on poplars. It arrived in the mid 1970s defoliating poplars across the country. It was the first well documented case of a fungal disease blowing in from Australia in a process that was to become known as trans-Tasman transport. See Melampsora leaf rusts in New Zealand.
Charlotte Westwood tweeted about ergot on Timothy grass and with pictures of the seed being processed and cleaned. Ergot forms when a fungus, Claviceps purpurea, which lives inside the plant and between its cells (it’s then called an endophyte) hijacks the grass flower and converts it to a black stromata or overwintering stage. The stromata drop to the ground and develop into fruiting bodies in the spring releasing spores that colonise newly sprouting grass plant.
Collection of ergot. Intensive drive. Need for war purposes.
Ergot was important because it was a source of drugs that were used to stop bleeding during child birth and surgery. For Britain the need for such drugs would be critical for the treatment of wounded soldiers and civilian during World War II. However the major source ergot was Europe [… from Central Europe, Hungary, Rumania, Spain and Russia, where they were collected, mostly by children, from crops of ryecorn …] which was no longer available. Step up mark the far flung Dominions of the Empire.
The Imperial Government has asked New Zealand to send all possible supplies
The collection of ergot in the Dominion is being sponsored by the Department of Agriculture with the co-operation of a number of organisations, whose members are taking up the work with enthusiasm.
Many tons of first quality ergot go to waste every summer in the swamp areas of New Zealand. Ergot is worth just now up to 8s [8 shillings] a pound in money value, but is worth infinitely more in terms of human lives and suffering. It is obviously the duty of everyone who has the opportunity to collect every pound for dispatch to Britain.
Escaping the drudgery of school
Dawn Rose reminisced about Onekaka School in Golden Bay. She recalled of how in the summer, her class would go out and pick ergot-infected seed heads. “We’d spend hours along the roadsides pulling the heads right apart to find it. There was something in it that stopped bleeding, we were told. Our teacher would put it all in a jar and send it off.” However the collecting of ergot fell far short of the government’s expectation. They had anticipated collecting 14 tons [35840 pound] in 1942 but only 1600 lb were collected.Meanwhile Department of Agriculture scientists collected ergots from around New Zealand and along with a strain they believed came from Hungary, attempted to artificial infect rye grass. It was estimated that 479lbs per acre but they only managed 176 lbs.
But even worse analysis of the New Zealand ergots at the University of Otago’s chemistry department found that the New Zealand ergot didn’t produced the needed chemicals and the Hungarian wasn’t much better.
So the call for ergot was cancelled in 1943.
105 weekly installments
Are you old enough to remember New Zealand’s Heritage in 105, 95c weekly parts. It was published following the enthusiasm for our history following the 1969 Bicentenary celebrations of Cook’s discovery of New Zealand. It said about the development of science in New Zealand:
Accounts of the survival of archaic forms of life amid exotic settings of temperate jungle and volcanic fantasy filtered back to European naturalists for the most part engrossed in classification or the study of systems. There were tales of snow-capped active volcanoes rising from pumice and ash desert scattered with “grass trees”; of boiling mudpools and geysers spurting in luxuriant tree-femed ravines; of the flightless kiwi bird and huge bones of the extinct moa; of “living fossils” among native shellfish.
Small wonder that some of the best European scientist-explorers set out, fascinated but sceptical, for the two remote little islands in the South Pacific. Some came to settle; this was the age of the generalist, when almost every educated man was interested in natural science, and William Colenso and other early missionaries, William Swainson, F.R.S. the farmer-ornithologist (better known as a painter), W. R. B. Mantell and many others added their records.
That Scot in Piptea Street
One of those men was the Scot John Buchanan. He came to Wellington from Dunedin when James Hector became director of the Geological Survey and Colonial Museum. For the twenty years John was in Wellington he lived in Piptea Street in Thorndon.John Buchanan played a significant role in scientific life of the community, the establishment of the Colonial Museum (later to become the Dominion Museum and then Te Papa) and the Wellington Botanic Garden. His influence was significant enough that the garden was referred to as the ‘Buchanical Garden’ by some at the time.
A first fungal list
I became aware of John Buchanan as a botanist, with a passing interest in fungi, while researching a checklist of fungi for the Wellington region in 1997. He published a list of 52 fungi in 1873 but because he did not cite specimens or locations, and as taxonomic concepts have changed I did not include them in the checklist.
Since then I became aware of John’s notebook, known as MS41, had been rediscovered and Linda Tyler, Director, Centre for Art Studies, University of Auckland sent me a PDF of it. It contained John’s fungal field notes that he based the 1873 upon. And excitingly it includes collections from around Wellington including the Botanic Garden. Here were notes from ‘my patch’ from 140 years ago.
Here are a few of the fungi from John’s notebook. The first is Ileodictyon cibarium collected in Wellington in May 1873. This fungus was described by Edmond Tulasne and Charles Tulasne in 1844.
Over the last couple of blogs I have talked about Clavogaster virescens. Here is John’s drawing and notes from the mid 1870’s. It was not to be named and described until 1890 by George Massee.
The last one is un-named but is clearly Amanita australis collected in Wellington in July 1875. This species would not be described or illustrated until 1962 by Greta Stevenson.
To know the man better read the biographies by Nancy Adams and the Friends of the Wellington Botanical Garden below. But to get a feel for the real man read Lyndia Tylers account of the herbarium battles between john and Thomas Kirk.
Buchanan J. 1873. Notes on the flora of the province of Wellington, with a list of plants collected therein. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 6: 210-235.
Dell RK. 2013. ‘Hector, James’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9 October 2013
Friends of the Wellington Botanical Garden Inc. “Old ‘Buckie’ and the ‘Buchanical Gardens'”
Tyler L. 2015. Botanical battles – John Buchanan and Thomas Kirk as illustrators in Hector’s Herbarium. Finding New Zealand’s Scientific Heritage Conference Handbook 23-24 November 2015 Victoria University of Wellington Wellington, New Zealand P. 18