How to find and identify fungi forms

Getting familiar with fungi forms

— Words extracted from Fungi: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sisson

Once you begin stumbling across cool fungi in various microclimates, you’ll quickly require a new language to describe what makes one fungus different to the next. With the right words, you can understand and know fungi in a new way. I learned this in the rockpools too. As they stretched out with starfish sparkle before us, so did other elements of life. Our baby brother started babbling away, in a rush of discovery forming his first full sentences as we explored the pools. Suddenly, he could describe what he was seeing and ask questions about it all. With a command of language, you can begin to know starfish, fungi, and other elements of nature, more deeply too.

Fungi come in all shapes and sizes. Some are mushrooms, but most aren’t. Some look like they could be underwater, in a rockpool, or attached to a coral reef. Others look like they’ve come from outer space. And a few look like they’ve wandered off the set of a horror movie.

The macro fungi we have here in Aotearoa — the big fungi you can see with your own eyes — come in many different forms. The following are a few big groups to get you started.

1. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are classically capped fungi. Sometimes called toadstools, these have a stipe (stem) and a cap which has gills beneath it. This is where the mushroom’s reproductive spores are held and released from once they’ve matured.

Mushrooms | Fungi of New Zealand

2. Boletes

These are the same general shape as a mushroom, but with one key difference: underneath you’ll find pores (lots of tiny holes) rather than gills. These holes are the open ends of many tiny tubes. Bolete spores form within the tubes and are forcibly ejected once mature, where they’re caught and spread by the wind.

Tyopilus formosus | Boletes

3. Pouches

Pouch fungi are shaped like little drawstring purses. Some have small stipes, others have none at all. They hold their reproductive spores within their bodies, which are fully enclosed. Sometimes pouch fungi are semi-subterranean and will just barely peek out of the dirt.

Pouches | Fungi of NZ

4. Puffballs

These fungi are round and sometimes squishy. They come in neutral colours ranging from buff to brown, and grow from the ground. They don’t have stipes, but sometimes you can see a few tangly threads at their base that attach them to their mycelium underground. Puffballs hold their spores within their bodies, which become dry and dusty when mature.

Puffballs | Fungi of NZ

5. Birds’ nests

These ones look like tiny birds’ nests. They have a cup-like shape which contains ‘eggs’, which are little parcels of spores called peridioles. When raindrops splash these from the nest, this helps the fungi spread.

Birds' nests | Fungi of NZ

6. Stinkhorns

This group is funky in more ways than one. Stinkhorns grow from the ground, have a phallic, anemone or basket-like shape, and are quite smelly. Their spores are held in a sticky, stinky goo which attracts flies and other bugs to help them spread.

Stinkhorns | Fungi of NZ

7. Corals & clubs

These fungi stand upright. Many have beautiful branching structures that look like underwater coral. Others stand solo and have a club-like shape. Corals and clubs come in all sorts of colours.

Corals & clubs | Fungi of NZ

8. Cup fungi

Cup fungi are shaped exactly the way the name suggests. Microscopic sac-like structures inside each cup hold the spores in rows within. Some cup fungi are small and delicate; others are large. Some have stubby stipes; others are taller.

Cup fungi | Fungi of NZ

9. Jelly fungi

These fungi have a jiggly, jelly-like texture and often grow on wood. They come in a wide array of colours and can shrivel up during dry spells, but then rapidly expand back out once the rain returns.

Jelly fungi | Fungi of Aotearoa

10. Bracket fungi

Bracket fungi are generally large, dry and have tiny pores on the underside that release the spores. These fungi tend to grow from wood. Some have a hard, shelf-like form, others are more flexible and leathery, and some form a simple crust.

Bracket fungi | Fungi of Aotearoa

11. Lichens

Lichens can grow on almost any surface. Some are completely two-dimensional and look like a splash of paint. Others are leafier, and some are dramatically 3-D with upright branching fruiting bodies.

Lichens | Fungi of Aotearoa

12. Insect killers

Parasitic fungi that attack insects can sometimes form dusty crusts on their victims’ exoskeletons. Other insect-killing fungi stalk insects in the soil, colonise their bodies, and then send up tall, stalky, spore-bearing growths from the insect’s remains.

Insect killers | Fungi of NZ
Fungi if Aotearoa by Liv Sisson

Words extracted from Fungi: A Curious Forager’s Field Guide by Liv Sisson