28 March 2010
The recent rain we've had has been a boon for countless families of fungi. This example I'll just call an unspecified mushstool because I'm no mycologist and can't find it, even in my most recently purchased guide to Australian fungi.
Mushroom or toadstool?
Like toads and frogs, these have slippery definitions, depending on the human who uses the term. The most commonly understood meaning for "mushroom" (see the CSIRO's answer) is a fruiting body (of a fungus—the bulk of the growth is below ground or in wood or other substance) that looks like a mushroom (cap centred on stem) and is edible. But there are other definitions that get finer, and Peter Valder has put together a list that includes factors such as "The base of the stem of a true mushroom is narrower or at least no thicker than the rest of the stalk while most of the poisonous mushrooms and toadstools have a noticeably swollen base." (see "Mushrooms and Toadstools" in Burke's Backyard).
The above pictured has an extravagantly bulbous base, so perhaps I should have called it a toadstool. But I'll go by the definition that many animals use out here. Although insects feast, the mammals only taste a little bit of the fruiting bodies of many fungi. A typical mouthwatering boletus will have only a chunk bit out. Often the torn flesh of the mushstool shows wtoothmarks.
An Alice moment
Only yesterday I watched a wallaby sample several toadrooms or mushstools. At one point she had both hands full, and was looking from hand to hand, obviously thinking whether to take another bite. Suddenly she dropped both white chunks, and sluffed off to eat grass.
This isn't someone's sick.
This is a fungus, and one of my favourites. There's a lot of it around here now, and I think it is a corticioid. If I'm wrong, you won't go down a dead-end road learning about these fascinating fungi. Read more about them here, with beautiful pictures by Philipe Mateo and Christina. And Tom Volk's ever superb site features three beauties in his Fungus of the Month, including the winner, Pulcherricium caeruleum. There are well over 100 corticioids, small to humongous.
This is very pleasant to the touch, rather like microvelvety wax.