But, who was E.H. Atkinson?

Cortinarius porphyroideus was a fungus we thought we knew well. It was first described as Secotium porphyrium and later becoming Thaxterogaster porphyreus before its most recent transfer to Cortinarius.  But, as usual, as new techniques and more species are discovered older species concepts are being reviewed. This revision includes Cortinarius porphyroideus and it was found that the type material had not weathered its almost century in storage well and it was almost impossible to extract DNA from it. Now, it so happens the type locality, that is the place that the type specimen was collected from, is in Wellington and I was asked if I could try and collect a fresh specimen of Cortinarius porphyroideus.

Cortinarius porphyroideus, at the type location York Bay, Wellington [photo Geoff Ridley]

G.H. Cunningham described Secotium porphyreum, in 1924, based on a collection made by himself and E.H. Atkinson sometime in 1922. I had first encounter E.H. Atkinson’s name on a number of collections when putting together a list of the larger fungi of the Wellington region part of which, the East Harbour Regional Park list, was used in the  in the Department of Conservation’s Native Plants of the Eastbourne Hills report.

Looking from the beech forest across York Bay to Lower Hutt, May 2019 [photo Geoff Ridely]

But who was E.H. Atkinson? And why was he collecting fungi with G.H. Cunningham in the 1920s? After playing “connect he dots” on the internet …

Mr Esmond Hurworth Atkinson, photographed circa 1928 by S P Andrew Ltd. [photo held National Library]

Esmond Hurworth Atkinson (1888-1941) is best remembered today as an early 20th century New Zealand artist. The Auckland and Christchurch Galleries New Zealand artists database said that he was an artist and a botanist of York Bay, Eastbourne, Wellington. A botanist!

Baring Head – Afternoon, Wellington [watercolour EH Atkinson]

That he was born in Wellington and that he was grandson to Sir Harry Atkinson. As an aside Sir Harry served as the 10th Premier of New Zealand on four separate occasions. Back to Esmond, his parents where  E. Tudor Atkinson and Ann (née Richmond). So his maternal grandfather was the pioneering New Zealand water-colourist James Crowe Richmond (1822-1898), and his aunt who greatly influenced him was the artist Dorothy Kate Richmond (1861-1935).

York Bay 1927 [watercolour Dorothy Kate Richmond]

This is from his grandson:

When Es was seven years old, the family moved to ‘Rangiuru by the Sea’ near Otaki, where the children spent the next five years ‘messing about in boats’, and Es furthered his interest in painting and the natural world. His schooling included a spell at Wanganui Collegiate School, later returning to Wellington College.

On leaving school, he joined the Department of Agriculture, Biological Section, and studied towards a BSc degree. In 1916, he worked his passage to England to enlist in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On the way he enjoyed short botanising trips ashore at Albany in Western Australia.

In England, he married Alison Burnett, a long-time family friend, and viewed the works of his artistic heroes, Frank Brangwyn and especially JMW Turner, while in officer training.

As a Lieutenant, he served as a signals officer, first in a seaplane carrier, Riviera, on a Mediterranean voyage, and then on the light cruiser Constance, from the deck of which he witnessed, and later painted, the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in the Firth of Forth.

Lieutenant E.H. Atkinson [photo The Lampstand 2015]

Returning to New Zealand in 1919, he transferred from the Biological Section to the Dominion Museum as official artist, but afflicted by epilepsy, he was retired in 1932.

Metrosideros scandens in New Zealand Plants and their Story 1919 [illustration Esmond Atkinson]

He continued to roam back country New Zealand, often with his wife and two sons, and paint many landscapes, until his death in 1941 from an accident resulting from his illness.

Sunrise, Wellington Heads 1927 [watercolour EH Atkinson]

So, as a botanical artist working in Wellington, the centre of biological sciences at that time, for the Department of Agriculture and the Dominion Museum he was mixing with the founding fathers of mycology, G.H. Cunningham, and botany, Leonard Cockayne.


ANZAC Stories: WWI in Watercolours and Ink. The Lampstand: The Annual Magazine for Old Boys and Friends of Wellington College 25 (November 2015): 20  https://docplayer.net/61547509-Lampstand-the-issue-25-remembering-our-fallen-100-years-on-the-annual-magazine-for-old-boys-and-friends-of-wellington-college.html

Atkinson, Esmond Hurworth. Find New Zealand Artists: a database of artist names. This website is a collaborative project between the libraries at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū  https://findnzartists.org.nz/artist/486/esmond-hurworth-atkinson

Atkinson, Esmond Hurworth, 1888-1941. The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa  https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22401763

Cockayne, L. 1919. New Zealand Plants and their Story. 2nd ed. Government Printer, Wellington. Biodiversity Heritage Library https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/12016#/summary

Esmond Atkinson (1888-1941) New Zealand. Australian Art Auction Records  https://www.artrecord.com/index.cfm/artist/3590-atkinson-esmond/medium/2-works-on-paper/?order=1&io=1&count=10&Submit=Refresh

Mr Esmond Hurworth Atkinson. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013441-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22557798

Sunrise, Wellington Heads. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/42048

Three Generations: J.C. Richmond, D.K. Richmond, E.K. Atkinson. Cristchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū  https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/three-generations-j-c-richmond-d-k-richmond-e-k-at

290, Dorothy Kate Richmond, York Bay, Wellinton. 291, Esmond Atkinson, Baring Head – Afternoon, WellingtonFine and Applied Arts 14 and 15 November 2018. Dunbar Sloane catalogue page 77  https://issuu.com/bravemedia/docs/artnovweb/77



The pouch strangler: Squamanita squarrulosa

In the recently published New Zealand inventory of biodiversity volume 3 (Buchanan et al. 2012) contains the following broad summary of our knowledge of mushrooms in New Zealand:

The agarics and boletes include the majority of species that form ectomycorrhizal associations with Kunzea, Leptospermum, and Nothofagus (e.g. species of Amanita, Cortinarius, and Russula …). Levels of endemism are highest among these host-specialised taxa. Of 205 ectomycorrhizal agarics recorded on Nothofagus, about 90% are indigenous and most of these are considered to be endemic …. In total, an estimated 30% of New Zealand agarics are introduced taxa. Cunningham … estimated that 22% of gasteromycetes were endemic; this group also includes several ectomycorrhizal species. Other agarics and boletes grow saprobically on soil, litter, and wood …, contributing to decomposition of organic matter and nutrient cycling, while a few such as Armillaria spp. are pathogenic on plants and some, such as Squamanita squarrulosa, attack other agarics …

I first saw Squamanita squarrulosa in September 1986 growing in a fine moss turf on a bank on the Orongorongo track. The track runs from the Catchool Valley to the Orongorongo Valley through a mosaic of forest types: Nothofagus forest on the drier ridges and mixed podocarp and broadleaf forest in the damp gullies. What caught my eye was a flash of purple amongst the green mossy turf. When I looked closer I saw a small, brown, scaly mushroom with a purplish bulb at the base of its stem.

Orongorongo track with a typical moss covered bank in Nothofagus forest (photo Kaitui_kiwi)

Back in the lab, I spent hours agonising over it and trying to key it out to a genus. It certainly didn’t fit anything described from New Zealand and the keys kept taking me to Squamanita. Back in the late 80s, Squamanita was an enigmatic genus with a monograph by Bas and no photos that I could find (remember pre-internet). I wrote up the material and sent it to Dr Cornelius Bas in the Netherlands and he agreed that it was a new species of Squamanita, which we called Squamanita squarrulosa. I collected it again from the same spot in 1987 but after that never saw it again.

Specimen notes from 1986 (Geoff Ridley)

Then, in 1994 a paper came out of the Pacific North-west of North America (Redhead et al. 1994) naming a new species, Squamanita contortipes, and describing it as the Rosetta Stone that allowed us to understand the rest of the species in the genus. Squamanita contortipes was a parasite of another mushroom! And was growing from the cap of a Gallerina species. All the other species attacked the developing host mushroom and took-over so that usually only the base of the stipe remained recognisable. This explained the weird transition that can be seen Squamanita paradoxa between the base of the stipe and the mushroom at the top – it’s two different species! The host, in this case, is Cystoderma amianthinum. The host was confirmed using molecular evidence by Matheny and Griffith in 2010.

Squamanita paradoxa with its Cystoderma amianthinum stipe base (photo Dr Adolf Ceska)

So if Squamanita is a parasite of another fungus what is the New Zealand host? In my field notebook, back in 1986, I had written, “under N.t. [Nothofagus truncata] shaggy caps emerging from purple tuber??” What I meant by a purple tuber is a species of Thaxterogaster. So my first uneducated inclination was I had a parasite agaric growing from a Thaxterogaster fruitbody. However, I quickly moved away from this idea when I decided it was a Squamanita and its species were described as having a tuberous base.

Thaxterogaster porphyreum: the host? (photo Don Horne)

After considering the structure of cuticle of the ‘tuber’ and its colouration I believe that the host is probably Thaxterogaster porphyreum. Squamanita squarrulosa has only been collected once since my original collections in 1986-87. The second photo shows the host ‘tuber’. This collection of mature fruit bodies were found in beech forest in Tongariro National Park in the central North Island in 2005.

Squamanita squarrulosa (photo G. Monk)


Squamanita squarrulosa (photo Jerry Cooper)

Squamanita has been given the English name ‘strangler’, for example Squamanita paradoxa is the powdercap strangler. Since I am suggesting that Thaxterogaster porphyreum or purple pouch is the host for Squamanita squarrulosa then a good English name for it would be the pouch strangler.


Bas C 1965. The genus Squamanita. Persoonia 3: 331-359.

Buchanan PK, Beever RE, McKenzie EHC, Paulus BC, Pennycook SR, Ridley GS, Padamsee M, Cooper JA 2012. Phylum Basidiomycota. In Gordon DP (ed) New Zealand inventory of biodiversity. Volume 3. Kingdoms Bacteria, Protozoa, Chromista, Plantae, Fungi. Pp. 564-584.

Gee H 1995. Mycological mystery tour. Nature 375 (6529, 25 May): 276.

Matheny PB, Griffith GW 2010. Mycoparasitism between Squamanita paradoxa and Cystoderma amianthinum (Cystodermateae, Agaricales). Mycoscience 51: 456-461.

Redhead SA, Ammirati JF, Walker GR, Norvell LL, Puccio MB 1994. Squamanita contortipes, the Rosetta Stone of a mycoparasitic agaric genus. Canadian Journal of Botany 72: 1812-1824.