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Small fungi can be beautiful too!

by Peter Johnston

4 mm high piece of “gold” (photo Peter Johnston)

It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible. Samuel Johnson

This brightly coloured and spectacularly beautiful fungus has been found only once. The fact that it is only 4 mm high means that it takes a keen eye to see. Back in 2018 Anna Chinn was visiting the beech forest at Moonlight Creek, on the road between Reefton and Greymouth. She chose this place to visit because her great-great grandfather had lived and worked here as a gold miner back in the day. While foraying for the fungi along the track, she came across this tiny piece of “gold” of her own.

(photo Peter Johnston)

This fungus is thought to be a mycorrhizal, its hyphae growing through the soil to interact with the roots of beech trees. It is a cup fungus, a discomycete. This fungus has no genus or species name as yet, but its cups are at the tips of four branches that form from the top of a central stalk. Perhaps ‘Brahma’ will form part of its name, referencing the four-headed Hindu creator god.

We know that this fungus has close relatives that live in the beech forests of Australia and South America. Although undiscovered until 2018, it is probably one of New Zealand’s most ancient fungi. DNA sequencing has shown that it is related to the green-staining discomycete Chlorociboria, another ancient fungal genus of the southern hemisphere.

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