This autumn should see a stunning variety of mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi emerging across the region - but that's no reason to rush out and start eating them, says noted ecologist Dr Alison Pouliot.
Ms Pouliot, an honorary fellow at the Australian National University, and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria mycologist Tom May have released a new book called Wild Mushrooming: A Guide for Foragers.
Published by the CSIRO, it addresses the ethics and protocols of foraging for fungi, while also considering safety for both humans and the environment.
With an exponential growth in the collection of mushrooms, Dr Pouliot says it's timely to consider what's can be at stake if something goes wrong , and the combined experience she and Mr May (an honorary consultant to the Poisons Information Centre in Melbourne) possess can assist potential foragers in avoiding what can quite easily be a fatal decision.
"Foraging is increasing quite radically in Australia," Dr Pouliot told The Courier.
"Whether you agree with it or not, it's increasing, and we imagine there will be a few new books coming out soon about foraging, which is great. But we wanted to throw one into the mix saying: 'Think about the implications of what you're doing.'
"As with slow food movement, or slow music or slow art, what they all share is that conscientious and considered approach. Just going out into the field with little knowledge is dangerous. It's about actually slowing right down, learning a few species thoroughly rather than many species superficially. That's the idea behind it."
Dr Pouliot draws a distinction between people 'foraying' and 'foraging', saying the former group is also growing - but their objectives needn't be exclusive.
Forayers are people who take the role of a kind of 'field naturalist' and seek to find unusual or striking or rare species of fungi, recording their existence without disturbing them as much as is possible. Increasingly sharing their finds on social media, Dr Pouliot says they can play an important role in an environmental conversation, and in conservation as well.
"There's this thing in Australia where conservationists and forayers see foraging as problematic," Dr Pouliot says.
"We're saying that the two can actually be married if it's done properly. That's what I've witnessed in particular places like Sweden, but elsewhere in continental Europe as well. Foraging can actually stimulate the science and mycology and the conservation of fungi.
"They don't have to be mutually exclusive, but I think it has to be done in a considered way. The slow mushrooming approach of doing it more conscientiously, so we don't end up with the need to regulate everything, or seeing problems in the environment."
Dr Pouliot says slightly below-average temperatures over summer and slightly increased rainfall in the region means we can expect to see a wider variety of fungi growth this autumn, following a good spring as well. She says this cooler, wetter summer could mean varieties not seen for some years may reappear.
"I would expect to have a greater diversity and a greater abundance; more different species and more of them, because of this weather," Dr Pouliot says.
"From around the Ballarat region, you've got a diversity of both native vegetation, Mount Buninyong, Mt Helen, Woowookarung Regional Park, but also a lot of exotic vegetation, Kirk's Reservoir, for example, you've got all those European and North American trees.
"Because of that diversity, we'd expect a good range of species. So the question is 'what won't you find?' You've got some really exciting things. Not just your umbrella-shaped mushrooms, the common ones people are familiar with. You'll get things like coral fungi, jelly fungi, and cup fungi.
"These all have different manifestations that aren't that classic cap-and-stalk style thing, and people don't even realise it they are fungi, that's the exciting thing. You'll get slime moulds, which are really crazy things. So all these different forms without that typical mushroom shape, but are still different types of fungi."
One common fungi that's easily visible is the puffball, or 'horse-dropping' fungus, which are often seen growing on the roadside, or even through it. When the ball breaks open or 'explodes, it disperses millions of red-brown spores into the atmosphere, perpetuating the species.
Every single puffball is connected to the roots of a eucalyptus tree, says Dr Pouliot, helping the tree get more nutrients and water. In fact, the puffball cannot without a relationship to the eucalypts, which displays how crucial interconnectivity is to these species, and to the environment overall.
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