Fungi of Australia

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Mycena interrupta in Myrtle Forest, Collinsvale, Tasmania Mycena interrupta.jpg
Mycena interrupta in Myrtle Forest, Collinsvale, Tasmania

The Fungi of Australia form an enormous and phenomenally diverse group, a huge range of freshwater, marine and terrestrial habitats with many ecological roles, for example as saprobes, parasites and mutualistic symbionts of algae, animals and plants, and as agents of biodeterioration. Where plants produce, and animals consume, the fungi recycle, and as such they ensure the sustainability of ecosystems.


Knowledge about the fungi of Australia is meagre. Little is known about aboriginal cultural traditions involving fungi, or about aboriginal use of fungi apart from a few species such as Blackfellow's bread ( Laccocephalum mylittae ). Humans who came to Australia over the past couple of centuries brought no strong fungal cultural traditions of their own. Fungi have also been largely overlooked in the scientific exploration of Australia. Since 1788, research on Australian fungi, initially by botanists and later by mycologists, has been spasmodic and intermittent. At governmental level, scientific neglect of Australian fungi continues: in the country's National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for 2010-2030, fungi are mentioned only once, in the caption of one illustration, [1] and some states currently lack mycologists in their respective fungal reference collections.

The exact number of fungal species recorded from Australia is not known, but is likely to be about 13,000. [2] The CSIRO has published three volumes providing a bibliography of all Australian fungal species described. Volume 2A was published in 1997, [3] and Volume 2B was published in 2003. [4] Unlike the Flora of Australia series they are bibliographic lists and do not contain species descriptions.

The total number of fungi which actually occur in Australia, including those not yet discovered, has been estimated at around 250,000 fungal species, including about 5,000 mushrooms, of which roughly 5% have been described. [2] Knowledge of distribution, substrata and habitats is poor for most species, with the exception of common plant pathogens. [5] One result of this poor knowledge is that it is often difficult or even impossible to determine whether a given fungus is a native species or an introduction.


Aseroe rubra, at Springbrook, Queensland Stinkhorn Springbrook.jpg
Aseroë rubra , at Springbrook, Queensland

Early collections in Western Australia were made by James Drummond and Ludwig Preiss in the early to mid-19th Century. They sent their specimens to W.J. Hooker at Kew and Elias Magnus Fries respectively.

John Burton Cleland conducted the first systematic review of Australian fungi in a landmark monograph of fungal specimens at the South Australian Herbarium. Comprising some 16,000 specimens, this included fungi from elsewhere in the country as well as South Australia. He was assisted by such people as Edwin Cheel, keeper of the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Leonard Rodway of Tasmania and Phyllis Clarke (later North), who provided some watercolour paintings. These three were honoured with at least one specific epithet of new species described by Cleland. [6] This resulted in two comprehensive volumes (1934–35) on the larger fungi of South Australia, and was reprinted in 1976. These were reworked and published in 1997 as Larger Fungi of Southern Australia by contemporary mycologist Cheryl Grgurinovic, though funding only allowed the publication of a volume on larger fungi. [7]

Bruce Fuhrer and Tony Young, whose book was first published in 1982 and has been revised several times since, have been instrumental in promoting Australian fungi to the general public with popular books on fungi in Australia. [8] [9] Published knowledge is augmented by locally produced guides in Western Australia, [10] Queensland and Tasmania. [11]



Commonly called ascomycetes, this group, the Ascomycota, is likely to be the largest fungal phylum in Australia in terms of species numbers. Australia's ascomycetes include some large and conspicuous fungi, but the fruitbodies produced by most species are less than about 1 cm in their largest dimension. The range of habitats they occupy is the same as for the fungi as a whole. Most of Australia's lichen-forming fungi belong in this group. With a few exceptions, the ascomycetes of Australia are very poorly known, and many remain undiscovered. Partly because of their importance in forestry, species associated with Eucalyptus trees have received considerable attention and, with hundreds known to be associated with some of the more studied tree species, it is clear that these fungi form a huge, complex and important component of Australia's forests. [12] Charismatic species include the "golf-fall fungi" (species of the genus Cyttaria ) which occur only on living branches of Nothofagus trees. Australia's native truffles (subterranean ascomycetes) form another distinct and interesting group which remains poorly known. [13]


Representatives of all three subdivisions of the Basidiomycota are found in Australia. These are the Agaricomycotina (bracket fungi, jelly fungi, mushrooms and toadstools, puffballs etc., i.e. most of the species commonly understood to be fungi), the Pucciniomycotina (rust fungi), and the Ustilaginomycotina (smut fungi).


A rounded earth star (Geastrum saccatum), in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania Geastrum saccatum.jpg
A rounded earth star ( Geastrum saccatum ), in Mount Field National Park, Tasmania

Native species are very poorly known, with most taxa undescribed. For those that have been, there are huge gaps in knowledge, especially with respect to distribution and, for the larger species, edibility. Reasons for this include the brief and unpredictable appearance of fruiting bodies, often the only evidence of most species, and the fact that there has been comparatively little scientific attention focused upon fungi in Australia. [14]

There are several exceptions; one is the family Hygrophoraceae, which has been written about by mycologist A. M. (Tony) Young in 2005. [15] Another is a treatment of the genus Mycena in Southeastern Australia. [16] The genus Amanita has been the subject of two reviews but a microscope is still needed to distinguish many species and coverage has concentrated in Australia's eastern regions. [17] [18] Alec Wood has also published a study of the genus Galerina , describing 29 species, 21 of them new, primarily in New South Wales. [19] A more usual state of affairs is that reported by Roy Watling with regard to boletes, that in Australia, it appears to be rich in species yet only a minority are described. [20]

Amanita muscaria, in Tasmania Amanita muscaria Marriott Falls 1.jpg
Amanita muscaria , in Tasmania

With the notable exception of the gigantic Phlebopus marginatus , possibly Australia's largest mushroom, many of the most conspicuous fungi have been introduced in association with exotic soil and trees; Lactarius deliciosus , Chalciporus piperatus , Suillus luteus and Suillus granulatus are European fungi found in pine plantations in Eastern Australia. The deadly Amanita phalloides is found under Oak in urban Canberra and Melbourne and has caused deaths. There are concerns at least one of them, Amanita muscaria is spreading into (and forming new mycorrhizal associations with) native Nothofagus woodland and possibly displacing local species. [21] Lawns, farms and parklands see exotic fungi such as the shaggy ink cap ( Coprinus comatus ), the poisonous Chlorophyllum molybdites and several species of Agaricus , including the edible A. bisporus and A. campestris as well as mildly poisonous A. xanthodermus .

Mycorrhiza of Rhizopogon luteolus was deliberately introduced to improve the performance of pines in pine plantations in Western Australia in the early part of the 20th century. [6]

The stinkhorn-like species Aseroë rubra is significant in that it is the first fungus species known to have been introduced in the other direction, namely to Europe, from Australia. It was recorded growing on soil transported from Australia in a glasshouse in Kew Gardens in 1829. [22]


Rust fungi are a large group of plant parasites. Many of them are highly host-specific. Some cause significant losses to economic crops, and where the crop itself is an introduction to Australia, the rusts on that crop may also be non-native. Rusts on native species are likely to form an important component of the natural checks and balances of native ecosystems, and may have their own distinctive conservation needs. There seems to have been no compilation of information about the rust fungi of Australia since the detailed monograph by McAlpine (2006). [23]


These fungi are parasites, mainly of flowering plants. Unlike the Agaricomycotina, they are usually small and easily missed by the untrained eye. These fungi are most easily noticed when they produce their fruiting structures, called sori, which are most often confined to the host flower, but may also sometimes be seen on fruits and leaves. In Australia, 296 smut species from 43 genera have been recorded. [24]


Apart from fungi of the subkingdom Dikarya, such as those described above (Ascomycota and Basidiomycota), some non-Dikarya fungi are known to have relatively high diversity in Australia; e.g. Backusella . [25]


Selected mycologists that have made significant contributions to Australian mycology:


Many of the books on Australian fungi are listed below: [26] [27] [28]


Region or taxon specific

See also

Related Research Articles

Mycology Branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi

Mycology is the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi, including their genetic and biochemical properties, their taxonomy and their use to humans as a source for tinder, traditional medicine, food, and entheogens, as well as their dangers, such as toxicity or infection.

<i>Amanita muscaria</i> Species of fungus in the genus Amanita

Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, is a basidiomycete of the genus Amanita. It is also a muscimol mushroom. Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine and birch plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees.

The hymenium is the tissue layer on the hymenophore of a fungal fruiting body where the cells develop into basidia or asci, which produce spores. In some species all of the cells of the hymenium develop into basidia or asci, while in others some cells develop into sterile cells called cystidia (basidiomycetes) or paraphyses (ascomycetes). Cystidia are often important for microscopic identification. The subhymenium consists of the supportive hyphae from which the cells of the hymenium grow, beneath which is the hymenophoral trama, the hyphae that make up the mass of the hymenophore.

<i>Phlebopus marginatus</i>

Phlebopus marginatus, known as the salmon gum mushroom in Western Australia, is a member of the Boletales or pored fungi and possibly Australia's largest terrestrial mushroom, with the weight of one specimen from Victoria recorded at 29 kg (64 pounds). It is an imposing sight in forests of southeastern and southwestern Australia. Initially described as Boletus marginatus in 1845, and also previously known by scientific names such as Phaeogyroporus portentosus and Boletus portentosus it is in fact not as closely related to typical boletes as previously thought.

<i>Amanita xanthocephala</i>

The vermilion grisette, also known as pretty grisette or vermilion amanita is a colourful mushroom of the genus Amanita. However, although it is often referred to by the common name "grisette", it is not closely related to other edible species that carry this common name, such as Amanita vaginata and Amanita fulva. It belongs to the same group of Amanita as A. muscaria and is reported to be toxic.

Thomas William May is a mycologist and the curator of the fungal collection at the National Herbarium of Victoria where he specialises in the taxonomy and ecology of Australian macrofungi. He is most notable for the comprehensive bibliographical lists of all Australian fungi published thus far; Volume 2A, published in 1997, and Volume 2B, published in 2003. as well as the originator of Fungimap, an Australia-wide mapping fungal mapping scheme based on observations of 100 easily identified macrofungi. May was awarded the 2014 Australian Natural History Medallion.

Alec E. Wood (1933-2016) was a mycologist affiliated with the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia who published major studies, describing a large number of new species, in the genera Galerina and Amanita. With Tom May, he co-authored Fungi of Australia Volume 2A, Catalogue and Bibliography of Australian Macrofungi - Basidomycetes in 1997.

<i>Omphalotus nidiformis</i> Species of bioluminescent fungus in the family Marasmiaceae

Omphalotus nidiformis, or ghost fungus, is a gilled basidiomycete mushroom most notable for its bioluminescent properties. It is known to be found primarily in southern Australia and Tasmania, but was reported from India in 2012 and 2018. The fan or funnel shaped fruit bodies are up to 30 cm (12 in) across, with cream-coloured caps overlain with shades of orange, brown, purple, or bluish-black. The white or cream gills run down the length of the stipe, which is up to 8 cm (3 in) long and tapers in thickness to the base. The fungus is both saprotrophic and parasitic, and its fruit bodies are generally found growing in overlapping clusters on a wide variety of dead or dying trees.

<i>Porpolomopsis lewelliniae</i>

Porpolomopsis lewelliniae, commonly known as the mauve splitting wax-cap, is a gilled fungus of the waxcap family found in wet forests of eastern Australia and New Zealand. The small mauve- or lilac-coloured mushrooms are fairly common and appear in moss or leaf litter on the forest floor in autumn, and are biotrophic. The key distinguishing feature is the splitting of the cap dividing down the middle of the individual gills.

<i>Russula delica</i>

Russula delica is a mushroom that goes by the common name of milk-white brittlegill, and is a member of the genus Russula, all of which are collectively known as brittlegills. It is mostly white, with ochraceous or brownish cap markings, and a short robust stem. It is edible, but poor in taste, and grows in coniferous, broadleaved, or mixed woods. It can be confused with other white Russula species and certain white Lactarius species.

<i>Cortinarius archeri</i>

Cortinarius archeri is a species of mushroom in the genus Cortinarius native to Australia. The distinctive mushrooms have bright purple caps that glisten with slime, and appear in autumn in eucalypt forests.

<i>Mycena nargan</i>

Mycena nargan, commonly known as the Nargan's bonnet, is a species of fungus in the family Mycenaceae, and the sole member of the section Nargan in the genus Mycena. Reported as a new species in 1995, it is known predominantly from Southern Australia. The saprobic fungus produces mushrooms that grow on well-decayed wood, often on the underside of wood lying in litter. The dark chestnut-coloured caps are covered with white, easily removed scales, and reach diameters of up to 2 cm (0.8 in) wide. The pale, slender stems are up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long and have white scales at the base. On the underside of the cap, the cream-coloured gills are widely spaced and bluntly attached to the stem. The edibility of the mushroom is unknown.

Derek Agutter Reid was an English mycologist.

<i>Mycena maculata</i>

Mycena maculata, commonly known as the reddish-spotted Mycena, is a species of fungus in the family Mycenaceae. The fruit bodies, or mushrooms, have conic to bell-shaped to convex caps that are initially dark brown but fade to brownish-gray when young, reaching diameters of up to 4 cm (1.6 in). They are typically wrinkled or somewhat grooved, and have reddish-brown spots in age, or after being cut or bruised. The whitish to pale gray gills also become spotted reddish-brown as they mature. The stem, up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long and covered with whitish hairs at its base, can also develop reddish stains. The mycelium of M. maculata has bioluminescent properties. The saprobic fungus is found in Europe and North America, where it grows in groups or clusters on the rotting wood of both hardwoods and conifers. The edibility of the fungus is unknown. Although the species is known for, and named after its propensity to stain reddish, occasionally these stains do not appear, making it virtually indistinguishable from M. galericulata.

<i>Pholiota communis</i>

Pholiota communis is a species of fungus in the family Strophariaceae. It is found in Southeastern Australia. The small brown mushrooms appear in leaf litter of pines and eucalypts in autumn and winter.

<i>Amanita ochrophylla</i>

Amanita ochrophylla is a fungus of the family Amanitaceae native to southeastern Australia. Its large and distinctive buff fruit bodies are common after rainfall.

<i>Austropaxillus infundibuliformis</i>

Austropaxillus infundibuliformis is a species of fungus in the family Serpulaceae. A mycorrhizal species, it grows in the eucalypt forests of southeastern Australia. It is readily recognised by its tawny yellow colour, large size and forked decurrent gills.

<i>Cortinarius australiensis</i>

Cortinarius australiensis, commonly known as the skirt webcap, is a species of mushroom in the genus Cortinarius native to Australia and New Zealand. The white mushrooms appear in autumn and can grow very large, with their caps reaching 30 cm (12 in) in diameter.

<i>Cortinarius sublargus</i>

Cortinarius sublargus is a species of fungus in the family Cortinariaceae native to Australia. It was described in 1928 by John Burton Cleland from the Mount Lofty Ranges. Cleland also described Cortinarius radicatus in 1933 from material collected in Willunga Hill, Waitpinga, Mount Lofty, Mount Compass, and Kinchina, Though Cleland regarded them as distinct, later authorities determined them to be the same species. The latter name turned out to be a homonym, having already been given to a different species.

Human interactions with fungi

Human interactions with fungi include both beneficial uses, whether practical or symbolic, and harmful interactions such as when fungi damage crops, timber, or food.


  1. "Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030" (PDF). Retrieved 11 December 2012.
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  19. Wood AE (2001) Studies in the genus Galerina. Australian Systematic Botany14, 615–676
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  21. IMC8 Fungus of the Month - April 2005:The Fly Agaric menace [ permanent dead link ]
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  23. McAlpine, D. (1906). The Rusts of Australia, their Structure, Nature and Classification. Victoria, Department of Agriculture.
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  25. Urquhart A. S., Douch J. K., Heafield T. A., Buddie A. G., Idnurm A. (21 September 2020). "Diversity of Backusella (Mucoromycotina) in south-eastern Australia revealed through polyphasic taxonomy". Persoonia. 46: 1–25.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  28. Fungimap Archived 2014-02-04 at the Wayback Machine , bookstore listing various publications