Facts on Fungi

Fact Sheet: The Fungi Collector

Dr Tom May talks about an extraordinary collection of wood rotting fungi

Presenter: Gardening Australia, 11/10/2008

A mycologist is a fungus expert and what Tom does at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens is to look at the classification and diversity of Australian fungi. “I like the excitement of finding new fungi. There are a lot of fungi that haven’t been discovered and I love the range of form and colour of fungi.”

To grow, wood decay fungi need water, oxygen and wood. They break down the wood and get nutrients from it by secreting enzymes onto it.

The part we see is the fruiting body – the reproductive part. A mature fruit body can be quite large, even up to 50 centimetres or more across. The role of the fruit body is to produce spores. The spores are produced on the underside, and they blow away and a new individual is started.

Wood rotting fungi are important because they’re major recyclers of dead wood in the forest. They break down all the nutrients, making them available to insects and other animals. It’s important to understand them because they also break down wood in houses, power poles and bridges so we need to know how to try and prevent that damage.

In the herbarium, where Tom works, is one of the largest collections of wood decay fungi in Australia. There are more than 8000 specimens with details on each stored in individual boxes. Many people over the last century or more collected these, but a large part of the collection came from Neville Walters, who worked at CSIRO, over many decades.

Neville started collecting in the 1950’s and it was his life’s work, but he did have a lot of help from collectors around Australia. He put out a call for help and about 150 people put their hands up.

In the field, collectors would chop off a piece of the wood with the fungus on it and fill out an information card about what kind of rot the fungus was causing, what tree it was growing on, and they would send the card and specimen to Neville.

The collectors were foresters, bushwalkers, naturalists and teachers. Every specimen that came in was entered in the catalogue so it holds information about where it came from and who collected it. Over time, other people added more information or even re-identified the species, so the whole history of the specimens is catalogued.

Not all specimens were easy to identify. Because of this Neville isolated the fungus from the wood into a culture and grew the fungus on wheat or corn in a milk bottle. On top of the bottle he placed a piece of wood which the fungus would start rotting and eventually, after several months, the fungus would produce a fruiting body which enabled Neville to identify it and link it back to the rot in the wood.

Because of the size and the detail of the collection, it’s a fantastic resource of what fungi grow where in Australia and what kind of trees they grow on.

Tom thinks, “We would be a lot poorer without Neville’s efforts. There are thousands of specimens. It would have been an enormous task to sit down from scratch and accumulate this kind of collection because fungi come up sporadically, so you have to be at the right place at the right time.”

To watch the video of this story, go to http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/video and follow the link to streaming

Information contained in this fact sheet is a summary of material included in the program. If further information is required, please contact your local nursery or garden centre.


~ by sunil khemaney on October 14, 2008.

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