What possessed me to meet up with a man in a deserted city park by the river on a Friday night? I often look back at past escapades and ask myself, “What were you thinking, Jane!” When I’m caught up in the throes of passion, common sense often takes a back seat.
Regular readers won’t be surprised to discover that mycological madness was responsible for this nocturnal rendezvous. Yes, fungi fever was to blame for me throwing caution to the wind. I know what you’re probably thinking at this point though. Why couldn’t she go on a fungi hunt during daylight hours?
To answer this question requires background information and an obligatory bird photo bombardment. You know me by now. Convoluted, long-winded stories are my forte. Time to settle in for the long haul, loyal readers, or escape while there is still time.
Sherwood Arboretum, along the banks of the Brisbane River, has long been a favourite haunt of mine. I’ve written two posts about it previously, sharing the changes that have taken place, and the species which inhabit its forest and wetland.
After buying a better birding camera in 2015, I headed back to Sherwood Arboretum to test my new zoom. The following images show some of the results and also how important the area is for species diversity.
The arboretum has many attractions for herpetologists, as well as ornithologists. Water dragons glare at passers-by, rightly judging us for our neglect of the environment.
Brisbane River Turtles compete for prime real estate in the warm sun after a chilly night.
And if you are very lucky, an encounter with a 3-metre carpet python on the boardwalk will brighten your day (or quicken your step.)
My apologies for the poor quality of the videos which were taken using my ancient phone camera.
Male dragonflies defending their territory also keep me mesmerised.
Sometimes male blue-banded bees can also be found congregating on twigs. The solitary females lay eggs in burrows in rocks, soil banks and even concrete. This species uses a special form of pollination called sonification or “buzz pollination” which involves a bee clutching a flower and shaking its body rapidly to help dislodge pollen from capsules. This process is not used by introduced western honey bees, making the blue-banded bee even more useful at pollinating certain crops.
Now to reveal what it actually was that sent my pulse racing on an ordinary March day in 2015 and led to a nocturnal rendezvous. Cue fanfare now, please. Here it is.
Yes, I know. It’s just fungi, but what you may not be aware of is that I thought I had finally found my holy grail – Ghost Fungus, Omphalotus nidiformis! What is so special about this species? Ghost Fungi are luminescent which means they glow in the dark. This glow is caused by a chemical reaction between fungal enzymes and oxygen. How special is that!
As you can imagine, I could hardly contain my emotions and it was truly a challenge to negotiate the busy motorway home without causing a pile up. Plans to head back at night were already forming in my frenzied mind. That evening, I fired off an email with photos to my naturalist friend, Robert Ashdown, who is not only a fountain of knowledge in all things wild, but is also a portal to a world of eccentric experts.
When it comes to fungus identification I am an impatient sod, and this was after all, my holy grail. Before Robert even had a chance to read and confirm the species, I had guilted long-suffering Lycra Man into accompanying me the very next night to photograph what I believed to be my beloved Ghost Fungus.
I knew that plodding through the dark being eaten by mosquitoes in a deserted park late at night had nothing to tempt Lycra Man, so I simply stated that I planned to go there on my own. Knowing how capable I am of abandoning caution for wildlife encounters, he felt obliged to offer his protective services. Having to be interviewed by mass media if I was murdered because he’d left me unaccompanied seemed a somewhat tedious alternative.
And so the thrills began. For some reason I thought the paths would be lit and I neglected to take a torch. Neither did I think about the hordes of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, so we didn’t even have repellent. Understandably, I’d been focused on fungi rather than minor details like actually being able to see. To keep from being drained by buzzing vampires, Lycra Man, with his superior night vision, strode briskly ahead, leaving me lagging far behind with my dodgy eyesight and short legs. At this stage I started to wonder if his definition of bodyguard differed to mine. Maybe his interpretation was simply that he was only there to inform police if he saw me bundled off by kidnappers? Either way, I was thankful for his presence, even though I could no longer see him in the distance.
I’d been confident of finding my Holy Grail again easily, but darkness disorientated me. Perhaps I’d expected the fungi to glow like a beauteous beacon in the night, drawing me in to its magical presence. Eventually, the clouds disappeared and the moon aided my search.
My bleary eyes finally detected the treasure ahead. Where was Lycra Man during all this? I’m not exactly sure, but he suddenly materialised in response to my excited squeals, so I guess he was taking his bodyguard duties seriously after all!
From a distance, the fungus appeared bright white but through the camera I thought I detected a fluorescent green tinge. Was I imagining it? Was it really my Holy Grail? Perhaps the moon was too bright? Was there something wrong with my camera? Had I dragged Lycra Man out there for nothing? Doubts and mosquitoes dampened the mood. I turned my camera setting onto “vivid” to try to pick up more colour. This was my best result.
Disappointed? So was I. Unsure whether this image supported any kind of identification, I apologised to my kind companion who was by now really struggling to find the funny side to this misguided mycological mission.
Upon returning home slightly deflated, I discovered an extremely informative email from Robert confirming this specimen was NOT ghost fungi but Lentinus sajor-caju, a species which is often mistaken for it. Lentinus sajor-caju is in fact edible, with the young fruiting bodies consumed in Vietnam and Malaysia. That ghost fungi (Omphalotus nidiformis) are poisonous highlights the importance of never eating strange fungi unless you are with an expert in identification. Do not use my photographs to identify edible Lentinus sajor-caju for the purposes of eating. You may end up consuming toxic ghost fungi instead.
Although my quest to locate and photograph the holy grail of fungi failed, I’ve not given up. I look forward to dragging more unsuspecting victims out on adventures and sharing the results with you. Anticipating your disappointment at this ending, I’ve included a link here to a successful ghost fungi expedition by Robert Ashdown and his son. Please visit the link to be entertained by his humourous adventure in near cyclonic conditions. Here’s an excerpt:
“Yes, they were indeed glowing, but capturing them was not easy, despite their sedentary nature. Howling gales looked set to bring trees down, and rain pelted us. For some bizarre reason scrub ticks were out in this weather and Harry ended up taking one home with him, firmly attached (the trials of the assistant).”
And here with permission from Robert are two shots of real ghost fungi. I’m sure you’ll agree that my obsession with this Holy Grail is justified when you view this nocturnal splendour.