Tuesday, 24 April 2007

#16 A ghostly fungus

Have you ever seen a glow-in-the-dark fungus? If so, then you will relate to my feeling of sheer astonishment and wonderment upon first sighting wild luminous fungi. Out of the forest darkness, an eerie green glow emanates like some unearthly object, and if you're familiar with fungi, you just know that you've found one of nature's mysterious creations.

Funnel-shaped Ghost Fungi

If, on the other hand, you are unfamiliar with fungi, you would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon a fabulous scientific discovery, or even some frightening beastie from another world.

I first became aware of, and interested in fungi when I purchased a fungi identification handbook while camping in central western Victoria several years ago. Since then, I have been keen to observe and learn about Australia's beautiful and weird fungi. I have begun recording my fungi finds in what I hope will eventually be a useful collection of observations and images. This growing collection can be found here.

A young Ghost Fungus starts out with orange/brown cap and yellow gills

Ghost Fungi scientific name is Omphalotus nidiformis, pronounced Omfa-lotus nidee-form-iss. Most scientific names are difficult to get the tongue around, but this one just rolls off the tongue once you repeat it a few times.

Recognising Ghost Fungi

These funnel-shaped fungi flatten out with age and can reach a diameter of 200mm. They are found on living and dead wood, both native and exotic, and can often be found in gardens and parks. The colour of the cap can vary from white or cream with blue and black centre and yellow tinges, to tones of purple and pink.

Ghost Fungi sprouting from a banksia stump

They often form large clusters and make a great display by day. But it is by night that their true brilliance shines.

Bioluminescent fungi

Living things which are capable of creating their own light are called 'bioluminescent'. Bioluminescence occurs when a particular enzyme (luciferase) and a particular chemical (luciferin) react. A third element needs to be present for this reaction to take place which varies according to the type of animal or fungus. The end result is the release of energy in the form of light.

A cluster of fungi on a dead pine stump

But why would a fungus use light? There are very few researchers in Australia involved in the study of this fascinating aspect, but perhaps as more species are discovered with this strange ability, more answers for the existence of bioluminescence will come to light!

The more unusual darker colours of a Ghost Fungus

The first time I witnessed these luminous fungi at night was in the pine plantations in the mountains of the New England region near Nundle in NSW. We were camping at Hanging Rock, observing and photographing fungi in the pine forests. Upon finding a clump of Omphalotus nidiformis, we attempted to memorise the location to return after dark.

So while 'normal' campers were enjoying the warmth of a campfire, we rugged up and headed off to find the mysterious glowing mushrooms. This was no easy task, as forest tracks were all unmarked, and it was with some trepidation that we wandered off into the pig-infested forest with a torch. But this natural phenomenon was an unforgettable experience with an eerie lime-green glow spreading up a tree trunk in the foggy blackness of the damp, cold forest.

I have not attempted to photograph Ghost Fungi at night, but here are some images showing the lime-green glow.

Ghost Fungi at Hunter Region Botanic Gardens

In the Hunter, I have seen Ghost fungi clusters by the Williams River in Barrington Tops National Park, and at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens at Heatherbrae. The Botanic Gardens are not open at night, but if you find these fungi in an accessible location, it really is a worthwhile experience to check them out after dark. They fruit at any time throughout the year, but as with most fungi, the main fruiting period is autumn and early winter.


Esperance Blog said...

Hi Gaye, love that photo of the blue caps on the Banksia stump, just as spectacular during the daylight.

I have never seen these bioluminescent fungi around Esperance, although I know they occur in the SW of WA. Maybe too dry and exposed here. However I have seen them in Victoria and NSW, which illustrates the great fungi diversity you have over there.


elfram said...

Excellent pictures. I haven't seen this one for years, but I haven't been out looking for a long time.

About 40 years ago I did see it, brought some of it home, and attempted to photograph it by a long time exposure. It worked to some extent, but I had to leave the shutter open for hours, in a dark room overnight.

Unfortunately I've lost track of the slide! But I will do it again if I get the chance.

Perhaps that's a project for yourself, too, Gaye from the Hunter.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Hello Jack,

I guess I have taken the diversity of fungi in this area somewhat for granted. The autumn rains are prompting many to fruit and I have seen some pretty exciting species this season during my limited excursions.

I did, however, also enjoy my fungi finds over the west of the country during my travels last year.


Gaye from the Hunter said...

Hello elfram,

Thank you. I will undertake the challenge of photographing Omphalotus nidiformis at night at some stage, but nothing can convey a night time encounter in its natural habitat. It is something that looks completely unnatural.


Jonathan O'Donnell said...

Thanks, Gaye, for a wonderful series. Your text is clear and concise and your photos are beautiful.

I came here from a discussion amoung Web developers about how good your content was. I agree - it is fabulous.

Thank you very much.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hello Jonathon,

Thank you for your feedback. My nature blog site and my fungi blog site are my first attempts at computer publishing, and I am not very computer savvy.

I have a lot to learn, but wish to create my own website at some stage.


haig-o said...

HI gaye,

Great ghost fungus photos. Currently trying to track a sporeprint down to try and cultivate these at home.
Have neaver tried to grow a non-edible before but i'm sure the kids would love it.

Anyone interested in mycology should check the new Paul Stamets book "Mycellium Running". Great read

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hello haig-o,

I'm glad you found my blog and enjoyed my account of Ghost Fungi. Good luck with your fungi growing.

I'll keep an eye out for the book you mention, as well as mentioning it to other fungi enthusiasts that I know.

I also have a fungus blog that might be of interest to you:



Anonymous said...

Hi, as ppl have already mentioned your pictures and text are great. I have witnessed these bioluminescent fungi myself a couple of years ago in Harvey, located in the southwest of Western Australia, and it truly is amazing.. Im headed out again in search of these awesome fungi very soon..
Keep up the good work

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Hello Raccoon,

hi, and thank you for your positive feedback.

I had to check out the whereabouts of Harvey in my map book. I am always interested in other people's sightings of fungi, especially over the west or the drier parts of Australia.

I hope you find some more of these beauties on your outings. Now appears to be the time to be out and about fungi hunting. Have fun with it.

Thank you for taking the time to let me know you are reading and enjoying my nature observations.