When it comes to flora, Australia’s southwest is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, and is especially renowned for its wildflowers. What many people do not realise, and I was not completely surprised to learn, is that there is even more diversity when it comes to fungi species. The region is a mycologist’s paradise with fungi of all sizes, shapes, colours and functions to be seen throughout the southwest.
Fungi are an integral part of the forest environment so a particularly perfect place to see them here in the southwest is among the ground leaf, twigs and bark litter of Boranup Kerri forest, just south of Margaret River.
These are the fungi captured during a recent 8 km walk starting on the coast at Cape Freycinet goes east through the coastal heath and circles through Boranup forest, follows part of the Cape to Cape track south and heads back around westwards to the coast -see below for details.
Fungi are not like plants, they cannot make their own food, and must feed either dead material or living organisms. They can be classified according to how they obtain food:
- Saprophytic – these fungi feed on dead organisms and release nutrients into the environment. They perform the important process of decomposing lignin, the hard substance in the cell walls of wood that would otherwise take a long time to break down.
- Symbiotic – these fungi live on living organisms either in a mutually beneficial relationship, or as parasites.
In a mutualistic relationship fungi take sugar from their hosts but provide them with water, phosphate and nitrate compounds. I was surprised to learn that 80 to 90 % of land plants could not survive without this mycorrhizal relationship with fungi.
In a parasitic relationship fungi harm their host or kill it. Dieback disease affecting parts of Australian Eucalyptus forests is a parasitic fungus. But they are also important because they contribute to biodiversity by preventing species from becoming dominant.
‘Fungi are the grand recyclers of the planet and the vanguard species in habitat restoration’
According to Dr. Paul Stamets, a prominent American mycologist, mycelium holds the key to solving many of the environmental issues we face today.
While there are a number of eye-opening and riveting talks by Stamets on YouTube, in this TED Talk he summarises some of his key ideas including some of the properties, capacities and possibilities that he thinks make fungi instrumental in helping restore the planet.
Here are two resources worth visiting for more information on local southwest fungi.
Negus, P. and Scott, J. (2006). The Magical World of Fungi. Cape to Cape Publishing, North Fremantle.
Robinson, R. (2003). Fungi of south west forests. Department of Conservation and Land Management, Kensington.
Cape Freycinet Walk - 8km
Start at South Beach Car Park in Cape Freycinet at the end of Conto road which you can access from Caves road as you head south from Margaret River. Park and walk back up the hill (northward) along Conto road and turn right at Point Road (east). As soon as you enter the canopy of the Marri trees that line this 4WD track you will start to see varieties of fungi among the ground litter of leaves and twigs and growing on the mossy bark of fallen tree trunks.
Walk along Point Road past the campground until you reach Georgette Road where you turn right again (southeast) and follow the Cape to Cape track to the top of the hill. The Cape to Cape track veers to the left (east) on Brozie Road, we turn right (west) back towards the coast. The total distance is about 8 km.
If these instructions are not clear enough just buy the book, it's only $25 dollars - I can't recommend it enough!