In the world of birds, lazy bird-watchers describe small and nondescript birds that are hard to identify as LBBs, or little bird birds.
I was surprised to learn recently that in the mysterious and arcane world of mycology, fungi fanatics have their own term for similarly coloured, sized and hard to identify species – LBMs or little brown mushrooms.
The term in fact does not relate to a range of species but to just one group or genus, Tubaria. This contains one of Tasmania’s most beautiful native species, Tubaria rufofulva, a small mushroom the colour of well-aged port, that has a slightly convex or flat cap.
I’ve developed an interest in fungi in recent years, after discovering they are found in the same locations as some of my favourite birds. These are damp and moist places, usually under the canopies of eucalypts and wattles in wet forests. This is the home of not only multi-coloured toadstools and mushrooms, but other treasures of the forest like pink robins, Bassian thrushes and, of course the “little brown birds” – scrubtits, scrubrens and thornbills.
Like so many people with a love of nature, my interest has in the past been directed at only one field of study. In my case that of birds, followed by mammals and reptiles.
Feathered and fury species cannot be considered in isolation, of course, and in recent years I have extended my study to include not only other flying creatures like butterflies and the wider world of insects, but also the habitats that they inhabit. After learning to identify different species of trees, plants and shrubs beyond the common ones, I moved on to fungi.
The world of fungi is indeed a fascinating and exciting one, even if most names of fungi are scientific ones which makes study difficult. As a journalist who does not have a scientific background, I feel happier among fungi with names like dead man’s finger, purgoda – as in a stacked form – and bird’s nest, a fungi that resembles a nest with eggs in it.
Fungi, as I often tell the uninitiated about birds, are not just attractive and fascinating, they are vital to the construction and ultimate survival of our forests, woodland and grasslands.
Without fungi, fallen trees would not rot and be broken down into nutrients to fuel rebirth. Fungi are vital to the magic circle of life, its beating heart even if on initial observation they do not pulsate and vibrate with life.
And fungi have certainly never been appreciated for their beauty, at least until more modern times. I recall from my childhood in Britain that the “toadstool” of Victorian children’s stories, the beautiful red one with white spots, was merely part of the scenery in elaborate artwork, and never central to the plot. The fungi were a backdrop, of which largely they remain today for the casual wildlife enthusiast.
For the second year running I recently joined the “fungi foray” organised as part of the Hobart City Council’s Bush Adventures program. The outing was designed to coincide with the peak mushroom fruiting season during April and May.
It was led again by Genevieve Gates and David Ratkowsky, and this year participants were armed with a vital aid to identification, a recently published book by the pair, A Field Guide to Tasmanian Fungi.
I was honoured to be invited to write the forward to the book, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in any way. The forward was purely written from the view of a layman, putting the mushroom in a far wider context, which includes the role they have in creating fruitful environments for forest birds.
In my part of the book there are references to “magic mushrooms”, just the sort of hook a layman who was a teenager in the Swinging Sixties” might take but Dr Gates is quick to warn of the dangers of eating wild mushrooms. Seemingly safe, edible ones can look like ones that a very dangerous. And harmful effects can be horrendous: kidneys and livers damaged beyond repair, a life on dialysis, if not death.
A Field Guide to Tasmanian Fungi is published by the Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club and is available in all bookshops.