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Glow-in-the-dark forests

Here is a blog post from the Forest and Bird website featuring an article and photos that I found fascinating. I hope you enjoy the blog post written by Anna Chinn.

Mon, 24 Jun 2013 4:52 pm – Posted by Mandy
Blogger: Wellington-based journalist Anna Chinn

It’s fairly well known that if you want to witness the glow-in-the-dark properties of our native forests, you can visit a glow-worm dell. Much less well known is that you can also visit the common tree fern Cyathea smithii and see its skirts glow with fungal bioluminescence.
My artistic sketch of these glow in the dark skirts
Artists_Impression

Artist’s impression: A Cyathea smithii grove by day … and by night with the Mycena fungus illuminating the skirts of the ferns.

Fungal bioluminescence, sometimes called fairy fire or foxfire, can be bright enough to read by, and on these ferns it can make much of the skirt glow in the dark; the trees’ own wearable art.

Last month, I joined a small group of mycologists on a mission to observe this phenomenon and collect specimens of the fungus responsible. As far as the official records went, New Zealand had no foxfire-emitting fungi, and we hoped to correct that.

We were all in Matawai, near Gisborne, attending the annual national fungal foray, and when this unusual night-time expedition was proposed, I couldn’t contain a primal yap: “Can I come?” The foray folk are very encouraging of non-scientists and I was soon stumbling through black bush with the experts.

Until that night, luminous trees had only been rumoured. A photograph of what is (incorrectly) described as fern-frond phosphorescence can be found on Naturewatch here. But the rumours were few and/or vague, and no-one knew much about these luminous trees, nor what species caused them to glow if indeed it was a fungus.

Led by Dr Peter Buchanan from Landcare Research, the party of six went to a bush track in the Matawai area. We walked in using dim torches and cellphone screens, because we wanted our eyes to adjust quickly to the darkness when we switched them off. This we did once we were under a dense forest canopy that excluded most of the moonlight.

We waited. Soon, we started to perceive wan glowing rods on the periphery of our vision. Those rods were the rachises, or spines, of the fern fronds. When a C. smithii frond dies, its rachis often remains hanging on the tree, and the rachises together form a twiggy skirt. Gradually, as our eyes convinced us, we could see on the edges of the track a ghostly display of glowing skirts.

When we approached the tree ferns, we learned three things about the glow effect:

1. The source was a fungus, and that fungus was fruiting. Teeny, tiny white mushrooms were present on the glowing twigs. The mushrooms appeared to be Mycena.

sketch-2-480x220

2. The mushrooms were not the only part of the organism that was glowing: most of the light came from the mycelium. Mycelium, which constitutes the matted bulk of the organism, is the part of a fungus we usually do not see, because it is under soil or bark.

3. The glowing was occuring only on the skirts and fallen rachises of this fern type. This indicated the fungus was a saprobe: one that feeds on and helps to decompose dead organic matter. Although C. smithii may not be its only host (we would later learn this Mycena had been recorded on cabbage tree skirts too), it was favouring the fern at this site.
As seen by day, a mushroom of the Mycena ‘Crystal Falls’ species.

mycena-2-287x360
Photograph courtesy of Landcare Research.

We plucked glowing rachises from the ferns, waved them like magic wands – well, I did – and then took them back to the foray’s makeshift laboratory at the Matawai Hall. There, Landcare Research’s Dr Jerry Cooper got to work describing the species.

This particular Mycena mushroom was known: Dr Cooper had previously given it the tag name ‘Crystal Falls’, after the Otago location where it was first recorded, but no-one had bothered to describe it formally. Now that the bioluminescence of this species has been discovered, however, ‘Crystal Falls’ is well on the way to having its family tree drawn up.

The scientists are, of course, taking a precautionary approach, not wanting to declare prematurely that the country’s fern forests glow in the dark.

But I want to declare that. The host fern is common throughout the land. The ‘Crystal Falls’ fungus has been recorded in the lower South Island and now the upper North Island, which suggests a large geographical spread. Why would we not suppose these two species could set each other aglow any time they get together?

True, the ‘Crystal Falls’ Mycena may only bioluminesce in certain conditions, but I’ll bet it very often does. I’ll bet the reason it has seldom been seen to do so in recent times – and this is not to suppose early Maori were not aware of the phenomenon – is simply people usually use a torch, if they head into the bush by night at all. Witnessing this subtle, ethereal spectactle requires you to wait patiently in the dark for your eyes to adjust.

If any readers live near a suitable forest track and feel like heading on a little night-time expedition to check for glow-in-the-dark fungi on tree ferns, I’d love to hear reports back.

Let’s find out the spread of this glow-in-the-dark treasure and map it, so New Zealanders will know if they have a luminous forest in their neighbourhood.

– See more at: http://blog.forestandbird.org.nz/glow-in-the-dark-forests/#sthash.W3pDBLxN.dpuf

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Saturday stats

The most significant statistic for today is that it is Day 6 of fine, mild weather…..one enjoyable day after the next, which is stunning for July in my part of the winter world.

37 new garlic shoots are reaching skywards.

The pretty assortment of lettuces is enjoying this strange climate. I picked fresh leaves for our lunch.

The fruit and vegetable shopping has been done.

The roses are all pruned, bar a large white carpet rose. Nothing low growing or “carpety” with this giant.

The lawns have all been mowed and the scattered, dying leaves munched up by the mower.

Weeds have been pulled out.

I had a cup of tea sitting outdoors in the sun and snapped Mrs Blackbird.

An overdue thank you letter has been written and posted.

Two closets have been decluttered.

And I have posted to my blogs.

Now I am going to do the Anacross in today’s paper to give the word puzzle part of my brain a workout.

Tipping point

I see on my blog stats that over 1000 comments have been made on my blog.

Thank you to all the people who follow my blog and to those who have left comments over time.

I read this comment by another blogger recently and it really tickled my sense of humour.

It went something like this: “Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. At least I know that I am not constantly talking to myself.”

I appreciate hearing from you. Take care out there.

Test results

Some of you might have wondered what I was testing for yesterday when I posted the word “Test” and nothing else in my post yesterday.

I had heard from another WordPress blogger that Facebook was not going to publish any WordPress blogposts after 22 November 2011. I wanted to check that out and so in haste simply sent the quick post.

I am pleased to report that I can still publish to Facebook so my loyal readers can still access my blog that way. The other way is to subscribe using the “Email subscription” widget on the left hand side of my blog.

It is nice to know you are reading my blog. Thank you, it makes a real difference in my life:-)

Autumn scatterings

I planned a day at home, taking it easy and the autumn weather has meant it was a good decision and an easy option. It has been dark, cloudy, very gusty and the autumn leaves have been scattering.

So what have been the scattering of activities of my day?

A prayer and good wishes to the people of Christchurch early this morning as I learnt that two nasty aftershocks had rocked that ravaged city early this morning. One shock was large enough to cause a brief power outage. I wish those tired, stressed people so much peace.

Humming Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” which we learnt at singing last night.

Monitoring PG, the cat to determine his intake and output. The vet was happy today to let him track on in the hope that the extra fluid interventions he has had on Monday and Tuesday this week had helped him regain his appetite. More monitoring is required just in case he needs another sub-cutaneous bolus of fluid tomorrow.

Watching more tree felling happening in our neighbour’s backyard.

Finishing a small knitted toy and trying to embroider a face on said toy……more practice needed on that skill, but the end result is good enough.

Hearing on the radio that it is 25 years since Paul Simons’ “Graceland” album was released and singing along to some of the familiar tracks off that.

More synchronicities found in the blogosphere as I find links between several blogs that I enjoy reading and one written by a woman who taught me my first computer skills way back in the late 80’s. The course was called “Computer Confidence for Women” and was nothing short of brilliant.

Collecting two books from the library which look particularly interesting for where I find myself these days.

And I took a few photos in my garden this afternoon but for some reason WordPress is not playing the upload game right now and I need to go and prepare some dinner…..

Nice day……