Fungi are amazing—they seem to pop up from nowhere overnight, especially after the autumn rains. The colours of some can be quite brilliant, while others are dull. Some are extremely tiny, while some are the size of dinner plates. Some are here one day and gone the next, others last for weeks, or in the case of the bracket fungi, for years.
Their shapes vary considerably also. Many of them do not look like a regular mushroom. There are woody brackets, thin fans, coral types, jelly-like blobs, honey-combs, cups, and flat sheets that look like a coat of paint.
There are many fungi in New Zealand and the majority are not poisonous, but because they are often difficult to identify one should avoid eating any unknown fungus. In all cases it is the reproductive structure that we call the toadstool or mushroom that may be eaten.
The term ‘mushroom’ is usually restricted to the edible species of Agaricus that are commonly sold or collected growing in grassland.
The word ‘toadstool’ refers to any other fungus with a cap and stem and includes both poisonous and non-poisonous species. The poisonous properties of some fungi, especially of native species, have not been properly investigated, and many of the fungi whose properties are better known are introduced species that grow in association with introduced temperate trees. Fungi typically grow under or near introduced trees in gardens, parks, reserves and similar places.
The fungi we see are just the reproductive parts—fruiting bodies which contain thousands of tiny spores waiting to be spread far and wide. Most fungi rely on air movement to spread the spores around, but some use a puffing mechanism, some rely on rain droplets, while a few specialise in smelling putrid to attract flies which will then unknowingly spread the spores.
Did you know? The scientific name for these toadstools featured in your forest walk is Entoloma hochstetteri.