Blue Mountains News

Mushroom Season in the Blue Mountains

By Linda Moon
Posted: 22 May 2024
Story by Linda Moon
It’s mushroom season again. For a short spell, mushie workshops, tours and outings are popping up on social calendars.

In reality, the fungal network (the mycelium) persists year-round. Composed of a subterranean web of tiny, spreading filaments, it quietly continues performing a job pivotal to life on the planet.

The mushrooms we see popping up almost magically are just the fruiting body of fungi, explains Steven Fleischmann, a Bushcare Officer for Blue Mountains City Council and a Landcare Coordinator in Lithgow. “Autumn, with rain and cooler temperatures, is when the mushroom season kicks off. That’s when they have their sexual fruiting. Unlike a flower it doesn’t have pollen, it has spores,” he says.

The photographer

Another contributing to fungus awareness and appreciation is David Noble. Legendary for his blogs and photographs of the Blue Mountains and beyond, he’s been photographing fungi for over ten years. In his nature forays into the Blue Mountains, he’s come across scores of fungus species, including potentially new and undescribed species.

“A few days after a good fall of rain, it you walked from the bottom of Leura Falls through Leura Forest and then around to the base of the Scenic Railway, you could expect to find anything from 20 to 50 species,” he says.

“The bizarre forms that fungi exhibit are really amazing,” he enthuses. “From the conventional mushroom to Boletes with their pores and colour changes, fungi that looks like coral, fungi with spines, Jelly Fungi, the Cordyceps that grow off insects, fungi that has a trumpet shape – it goes on and on.”

His favourite are a group known as “waxcaps”. Small and colourful, they may be green, red, yellow or blue.

He urges people to look at the ground in the leaf litter when in rainforest gullies in the Blue Mountains after rain. There you may find a strange fungus known as Dead Man’s Fingers. Shaped like small black clubs, they’re often seen coming out of rotten logs.

Fantastic facts about fungi

Fungi share characteristics of both plants and animals, but are neither, Alison says. The kingdom of fungi includes moulds, yeasts, rusts and lichens.

“They’re primary recyclers of organic matter, unlocking nutrients and releasing them for plants,” Alison says. “They support soils by putting in architecture, aerating them and filtering water. They connect up plants, helping them access nutrients and water.” Like a “connective tissue that underpins terrestrial ecosystems”, they’re vitally important, she says. 

Fungi are ‘heterotrophs’ like us, Steven says. “They take food and consume it.” Like a huge underground gut, one of their key roles is to break down and decompose things (including wood) making nutrients available for themselves and plants. Plants are autotrophs, meaning they use food to produce energy.

Remarkably, the underground network of mycelium can cover many square kilometres. In fact, the largest organism in the world is a fungus. The “Humongous Fungus” – as it’s nicknamed – is a species of honey mushroom in Oregon spanning 9 square kilometres. Scientists estimate it’s over 2,400 years old.

Helping the planet, some fungi store carbon in the soil; others have been found to break down soil toxins including heavy metals, plastics, petrochemicals, oil and even radioactive materials.

Safe foraging

Legally speaking, it’s fine to collect ‘exotic’ species of mushroom, Steven says. The Saffron Milk Caps and Slippery Jacks commonly sought after by foragers are introduced varieties associated with pine trees. Where something is in the landscape is a super important part of fungi ID, Steven emphasises.

When in doubt, do without. Or take an expert with you.

“Interestingly, there’s only one test for edibility,” Steven says. “And if you get it wrong, which is entirely possible and easy to do, it can have quite a catastrophic outcome.”

There are several ‘native’ edible mushrooms in the Blue Mountains. “They were a food source for Aboriginal people,” Steven says.

Biodiversity laws protect native fungi, meaning you can’t pick them, he says. Mycologists must have a scientific license to collect them.

Find out more about Blue Mountains fungi and see more of David Noble’s mushroom images here

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