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
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.
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.
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.
One of the special features at Otari Open air plant Museum is the Tree top walk.
This wooden walkway begins here with a Waharoa or gateway into a spiritual realm.
Ahead are tall trees.
The walkway bridges the Open air Museum to the Information Centre and spans a deep, deep gully.
For those who dare to look over the sturdy rail there are fascinating views to be had.
Look at the wonderful star shape that forms in the crown of a large tree fern.
While the walkway is in the canopy of tall New Zealand Native trees there are plenty which reach higher than the walkway.
This is where we spotted one Keruru.
Every so often there are views out over the greater Otari Bush reserve showing viewers this very rugged countryside that is so typical of the hills of Wellington.
And the density of the native bush when it is left to its own devices.
Some very old and beautiful specimen are within reach.
And at the end of the walkway there is another Keruru perched very high up on what appears to be a twig.
While we had something of a bird’s eye view on the walkway we were really being viewed all the while by the birds.
A change of scenery and some fresh air was needed today and we headed to Battle Hill, Pauatahanui.
It is a working farm, run by the Greater Wellington Regional Council but it is also a historic site and includes various areas of regeneration.
These lovely tree ferns (Pongas) were on the edge of a large area of regenerating native bush. I love tree ferns and enjoyed the light and the way the ferns shifted and moved in the breeze.
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.
I had intended to post on Friday but other things got in the way of that intention so here goes on Monday.
I had commented to another blogger that I was not sure where last week had gone and just what I had to show for it. Upon further reflection I realized that technology had been a rather dominating theme during the week and technology can certainly eat up the hours without much being achieved.
A “lost” MRI report had caused some degree of anxiety on my behalf but someone else spent the hours chasing that and the good news was that the report was found. Relief all round.
I received an odd email on Tuesday night from our telephone/internet provider telling me we had exceeded our gigabyte package at further cost to us. This was a real puzzle as I had received an email the week before telling me that this company was doubling our package for no extra cost.
It was too late to call anyone on the 0800 number but I did go to their website to see what I could learn. Nothing! I spent quite some time searching around in the hope that the answer or an explanation could be found.
I spent time on a sketchy phone line the next morning being told that they had made a mistake and all was well. The new upsized package was ours and the cost the same! Great. I then asked for help to set up entry to my account and usage meter…..three phone calls later I still can’t do this. I’ve decided to abandon that fruitless exercise and simply enjoy more GBs to browse with and continue to refer to paper accounts.
A letter via snail mail that day bought the somewhat unsettling news that we are to be provided with a new smart electricity meter. This will be a digital device that gathers data remotely so that means our longstanding and very friendly meter reader will lose his job. I feel really sad about that.
I decided to ring the company the next day to check out the fine print that appeared in very small font at the bottom of the letter. I have my fingers crossed now that we don’t need an electrician to do extra work, at our cost, when this meter is installed. It seems unlikely according to the woman with whom I spoke.
Friday saw me wrestling with a petrol pump that did not seem to be working particularly well and some pretty indifferent customer service around that.
To help counteract all this techy frustration and time gobbling I returned to the Belmont Domain on Saturday and took some more photos of this beautiful spot.
This is a koru, showing its strength and life force, heading to the sunlight as a new frond on a lovely tree fern in the Domain. The koru is often used as a symbol of potential unfolding.