Glowing mushrooms on NSW South Coast captivate photographers and mushroom experts
At first glance you might not notice the light green glow appearing between the mushrooms’ gills in the dead of night.
But soon your eyes adjust and you can spot it: a bioluminescent fungus growing in a cluster attached to a dead tree stump in the middle of the Australian bush.
It is “mushroom photography” season and sights of the glow-in-the-dark function on the NSW South Coast are captivating photographers and researchers alike.
“They’re quite a sizeable mushroom and grow to the size of your hand,” said Bega-based photographer Andrew Larkin.
“It is an alien-type view of the Australian bush that we don’t otherwise pay much attention to.”
Mr. Larkin has more than 30 years’ experience as a professional photographer but has found the art of capturing glowing functions that required a new set of skills to master.
Using a long exposure in order to capture the glow, he has managed to photograph a few clusters of ghost mushrooms — a species of bioluminescent fungus — growing in Bournda National Park, north of Tura Beach.
In other instances, Mr. Larkin held a blue light in front of the mushroom as a contrast to the green to try to best illustrate the texture.
Between March and August is considered the best time of year to find the glowing mushrooms, but locating them can be quite a challenge because the glow itself is quite subtle to spot.
“It is coming into ghost mushroom season which tends to be autumn and winter,” Mr. Larkin said.
“You don’t really know that they’re going to glow until at night.
“I couldn’t see them glowing, it was only through the camera over long exposure that I saw them.”
‘Baffling, magical’ mystery
Mushrooms featuring cold, green light are considered very normal among those who research them, but the reason why the fungus glows is still up for debate.
“There’s quite a few fungi in the world, probably over more than 100 species, that do bioluminescence,” said ANU researcher on fungal plant interactions Celeste Linde.
“It’s an interaction between a compound in the fungus and oxygen and an enzyme that makes the light shine.
“It’s very similar to what fireflies have.”
Ms Linde said four lineages of mushrooms glowed.
She said bioluminescent mushrooms could be spotted in many locations across Australia including in Canberra, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
A study in Brazil found that light from a mushroom in a rainforest-type environment attracted insects, which inadvertently picked up spores and helped the fungus spread.
But in Australia, research has found the forest environment is notably different from a Brazilian rainforest, and wind, rather than insects, helps with spore dispersal.
“There’s no difference between a non-glowing and a glowing mushroom model in how they attract insects in Australia,” she said.
“In Australia, the forests are probably more open than a rainforest and maybe the mushrooms don’t need the insects for dispersal.”
Bioluminescent mushrooms are continuing to fascinate those in the field.
“When you walk at night, your eye just catches something glowing in the forest and it’s a mushroom,” Ms Linde said.
“It’s like there’s a light on.”
“Coming back to the question of why they’re doing it, I don’t know, it’s … baffling, but it is magical.”