Fungus Foray

After I had cleared some creeping campanula which was taking over the barrel of polyanthus, I noticed two mushroom-like shapes emerging from the soil. On closer inspection, I decided they were puffballs. To my surprise, a day or so later they had turned into this:

Had a child’s geodesic dome toy landed there – or perhaps something from outer space? It had the look and feel of plastic. When I looked closely, I could see how it had formed out of the two “puffballs”:

In a couple of days it had crumpled and collapsed, by which time another one was emerging:

It was popping out of its pod looking like a scrunchie.

Then I recalled seeing it growing under trees at the beach and discovering that it is called a basket fungus, so I looked it up. The Maori names include tutae kehua (ghost dung) and tutae whetu (star dung). It is native to New Zealand and also found in Australia and South Africa. This site, with interesting photos, also identifies it as a buckyball stinkhorn. I didn’t sniff too hard, but any bad smell wasn’t obvious in my specimens.

I wrote a post called Inexcusable Ignorance (August 11, 2019) after observing a very delicate pale grey fungus on the lawn. It looked a little like the crowd of hattifatteners in the Moomin stories. I felt strongly the need to learn more about everyday things in the garden. Well, my head is bursting with information now. A Compendium of Collective Nouns informs me that, rather than crowd, the correct term is colony of fungi – “a batch of fungi that has grown from a single spore or cell – that is, a clonal colony.” A question on the television quiz show QI was: “What is the largest living thing on the planet?” There were the usual responses: “The blue whale”, “The Redwood tree”. The answer was a massive fungus, which must be the one referred to in A Compendium of Collective Nouns: “In the forests of Eastern Oregon, a clonal colony of the fungus Armillaria solidipes has spread across twenty-two hundred square acres, and is estimated to be twenty-four hundred years old.”

A Radio New Zealand article I found states: “There are tens of thousands of fungus species in New Zealand”. A competition to vote for the favourite fungi was run at the 32nd annual New Zealand Mushroom Foray. The basket fungus came second. The Maori term used for it in the article is matakupenga which, on looking up, I found is also a design used in Maori carving symbolising the life force between the living and the ancestors. The winner of the competition, a stunning blue fungi, appears on our $50 dollar note, I was surprised to discover. There are great pictures on the RNZ link.

The New Zealand Mushroom Foray conjures up wonderful mental images. It reminds me of the Mushroom Pickers’ Ball in the Polish book Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (who won the Nobel Prize in Literature 2018) which I have recently laughed till I cried over (surprising, as the title doesn’t suggest hilarity). I never imagined there would be a similar group here in NZ. Which all goes to show that the more you learn the more connections you make, the less ignorant you are, the more fun you have, and the more you appreciate the world and our tenuous place in it.

All my chooks in a row

Where’s…Betty, Popcorn, Dora?

Dora, Betty and Popcorn keep together most of the time. Betty who has grown quite plump is not laying eggs – or not viable ones. She does not move about as much as the others, often sitting on the door mat, but is still quick to run for food or to see if I have a treat. Dora (named for the explorer) will occasionally go off on her own over the fence into the front garden – or into the house given half a chance. Otherwise, wherever you see one the others aren’t far away.

I think Popcorn is top of the pecking order, but they all get on well. I hear a bit of a kerfuffle (a perfect word for chooks) in their little house as they settle for the night. Did you know they can sleep with one eye open? How to Speak Chicken by Melissa Caughey (see last post) informed me that the chook nearest the door keeps an eye out (perhaps this is where the expression originated) for possible intruders. They rotate positions so that each chook gets to be in the middle and have both eyes closed for part of the night. This characteristic, along with their ability to melt away into the cover of undergrowth, dates back to their ancestor – the Burmese jungle fowl. They have one eye designed for close up viewing and the other for scanning the sky for potential danger.

The weekend before last, I observed them sitting in a row for their morning preening.

Left to right: Betty, Popcorn, Dora.

These rescued chickens will live out their lives here whether or not they continue to lay eggs. Having read This Chicken Life by Fiona Scott-Norman (see previous post) I am more aware of the hard life most “utility breed” chickens have, being bred and selected for their eggs and meat. Popping out an egg a day takes a toll on these hens and they do not live long – perhaps two years. If they are “broilers”, bred so large they collapse with their own weight, they only live for a number of months. I wonder if Betty is getting a little depressed, knowing she is not producing eggs and waiting for “the chop”.

“Did someone say ‘the chop’?”

This Chicken Life recommends heritage breeds for backyard flocks. They don’t lay as often but having a few more of them can compensate. Of course, if you want them to live as they really should, you need a rooster, which isn’t allowed in urban areas. Some of the chicken fanciers in the book get around this by keeping their roosters in a box or sound-proofed garage over night. The heritage breeds come in all sorts of dramatic colours and sizes (as do their eggs) and they can live to be teenagers.

The book shows how chooks bring joy and comfort to all sorts of people: the sick, the elderly, people needing mental health support, people with physical disabilities, prisoners, children who are bullied, children who are autistic, school children generally, people who rescue them, artists who paint their portraits, an actor who includes them in her comedy acts, those who photograph them in fetching poses, show them, judge them, crotchet hats for broody chooks and a woman who manufactures wheelchairs for injured birds. This woman has a trailer called a “Pull-et” for taking her chooks on holiday with her. Many say how they enjoy their backyard “chicken television” at the end of a working day. Even the Queensland Parliament has an Eggsembly of chooks which is a highlight of open days at Parliament House in Brisbane.

There is something natural, primal even, and calming about chooks.

[Quite Interesting Note: “primal” is also a word for a large feather on a bird’s wing.]

At the moment of writing, Dora, Popcorn and Betty are having dust baths together. They scratch away the damp surface to find the dry soil beneath and settle into little bowls of dust, fluffing their feathers and dozing.