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Forests And Fungi, A Match Made In Havelock

The specimen table at Fungal Foray Headquarters. (Photo supplied)

The forests around Havelock at the top of the South Island are giving up some of their secrets this week as a group of around 60 professional and amateur mycologists search out all the weird and wonderful forest fungi they can find.

The group is taking part in the 36th annual Fungal Foray. Organised by FUNNZ, the Fungal Network of New Zealand, and supported by Manaaki Whenua, the week is an opportunity to collectively advance the knowledge of fungi in New Zealand, of which about 80% of species remain unknown.

As the mycologists scour the forests around Pelorus Bridge, Mt Richmond Forest Park, and various scenic reserves around Ngakuta and Momorangi Bays, they will be eyes-down searching for whatever fungi they can find.

The secret to finding the tiniest of these mushrooms is, according to journalist and fungi fan Anna Chinn, to sit down. “Just wait and let the fungi come to you.”

It’s only when you aren’t rushing past the piles of mulch or fallen trees that you’ll see the tiny yellow, white, brown or purple caps swaying on hair-thin stalks.

Each day’s foraying involves collecting specimens in the field and then heading back to Foray Headquarters, this year the Havelock Town Hall, where the specimens are identified, labelled and displayed. The fungi are photographed, with some dried and packed up to be added to the national fungal collection, the New Zealand Fungarium (PDD) Te Kohinga Hekaheka o Aotearoa in Auckland. Researchers also dissect specimens, prepare material for DNA extraction and generate cultures from species of interest,

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By the end of the week at least 200 samples will be packed up for the Collection. PDD Curator Mahajabeen Padamsee says the Foray has significant value as researchers seek to expand their knowledge of the country’s fungi. “It allows us to add information about what’s found in a particular area. We need this information so we can monitor what’s here from a conservation perspective.”

“Every year we find at least one new species,” says Dr Padamsee.

Every year the researchers also hope to inspire a new generation of mycologists with visits to the foray headquarters by schools in the area. Manaaki Whenua Senior Mycologist Dr Peter Buchanan helped a group of Year 6-8 students from Havelock School get a close look at the specimen table, and it was “wow” says Summer. “I was very surprised.”

It was a feeling echoed by her classmate Louie who said he was amazed there were so many different kinds of ‘mushrooms’. “It was really cool looking at them so closely and seeing them glow under the light.”

Dr Buchanan says the school visits are important because they open new worlds for the students. “Children are typically curious and with their sharp eyes they can spot many different kinds of fungi. It would be nice to see children become as observant of fungi, as they are of birds and insects.”

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