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
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.
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.
Ghost Fungi at Hunter Region Botanic Gardens