Tag Archives: native bush

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
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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.

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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.

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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

The big dry.

The whole country is very, very dry with drought conditions in many places. Rain is desperately needed by people who farm the land and who grow plants. I am watering my vegies and plants on a daily basis and further water restrictions are on the horizon.

It is hot and it is dry.

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Some refreshment would be welcome and would provide balance.

I went in search of some cooler conditions this morning and enjoyed the green of the regenerating bush area nearby.
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Something has been enjoying some refreshment eating this green leaved Kawakawa plant.

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And a blackbird was eating these juicy berries.

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Despite the lack of rain there is still green, juiciness to be found in my backyard thank goodness.

A walk around the Upper Lake

After I picked up some provisions from the local shops I went for a walk along the side of the Upper Lake in my suburb. We have two man-made lakes and the upper one is smaller, more wooded and quiet. It seemed an ideal place to walk, to reflect and to focus the camera.

A short distance down the path I came across these four geese.

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On the lake were these white ducks.

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As I approached the geese, two pukekos emerged from the long grass and headed to the lakeside, wary of my intrusion.

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Many native trees grow along this path but there are also homes on the left-hand side and a splash of vibrant colour caught my eye in one spot.

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I paused at seat near the lake edge and looked out at the water-lilies and the reflection in the water of one patch of blue sky.

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We have some unusual looking trees in our bush. This Lancewood is one. It makes me think of primeval times.

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My camera batteries died as I neared the steep incline at the end of the lake. That seemed a good indication that it was time to head home.

And then there was silence……

The remarkable thing about waking up this morning is the sound of silence. Well not total silence because the birds are singing and traffic is passing the house BUT there are no gale force north westerlies buffeting the house and roaring in the trees. The noise of the wind yesterday seemed all encompassing as it gusted and blustered at every door and window.

The calm after the storm? I hope so.

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Bird tales/tails

Two Keruru (NZ Wood Pigeon) were spotted by a family member at a nearby Keruru(More infomation about them here) “hang-out” spot so we headed down to this wooded area, armed with cameras, in the hope that they would still be there.

At first we could not see any, but these are shy birds, whose backs blend in with the leaves and they like to perch in very tall trees. They are clever at hiding.

I did spot one and moved towards it as quietly as I could. As so often happens the bird spotted me and turned gracefully around to face away from me.

More stealth was required and with good fortune I could see the Keruru snoozing. The head of the Keruru is very small in comparison with its very large body and they tend to hunker into themselves when sleepy.

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I waited patiently but zzzzz’ing was on the agenda with this bird. I turned around to find a rather inquisitive Thrush nearby. My movement caused it to scamper off a bit and with an inadequate zoom lens it looks very small here. We played a little “Catch me if you can.”

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However my attention on the Thrush seemed to rouse the Keruru and I got this shot. Perhaps the Keruru liked the “Catch me” game too?

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Cool Kokako

I am particularly fond of our native North Island Kokako and its beautiful fluting song. Here is the brief information that our Department of Conservation provides about the Kokako on its website:

“North Island kōkako

The kōkako belongs to the endemic New Zealand wattlebirds (Callaeidae), an ancient family of birds which includes the North and South Island saddleback and the extinct huia.
The kōkako is the only member of its family still surviving on the mainland. A dark bluish-grey bird with a long tail and short wings, it has a pair of brightly coloured, fleshy “wattles” extending from either side of its gape to meet below the neck.
The North Island kōkako has blue wattles, while the South Island kōkako has orange or yellow wattles. The bird is not particularly good at flying and prefers to use its powerful legs to leap and run through the forest.”
My earlier experience of a Kokako in the wild was when I visited Kapiti Island (a wildlife sanctuary) and as I trudged up the steep terrain that day I was stopped in my tracks by the unique melodious song coming from far across the gully. Prior to that I had only heard recordings of this lovely song.

So I was delighted to discover that there was a Kokako in captivity at Pukaha, Mt Bruce, when we visited there recently. This bird was recovered from the wild after it was blown out of its nest as a young fledgling and was hand reared. It is the only one in captivity and must remain in an aviary in order to survive.

Kokako at Mt Bruce

It was such a privilege to stand so close to a Kokako and to watch its movements, to hear it whistle (it had learnt to wolf whistle sadly while being hand reared) and to see its lovely plumage. With so much human contact this Kokako had not learnt to sing its natural song. However in terms of educating people this friendly, healthy bird has much to offer in terms of promoting programmes to ensure the species does not become extinct.

Kokako print

My Dad taught me so much about the native bush and the birds and wildlife in our country and for that I am very grateful. I just wish he had lived longer to see the results of programmes and sanctuaries that mean we get to see so many more of our native birds, many of whom have been on the endangered species list for a long time.