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Stephen Axford: How fungi changed my view of the world

Jun 02, 2021
Foreigner, my name is Stephen Axford and I take photographs of mushrooms. This setting I am standing in is an endangered subtropical lowland rainforest near where I have lived on the north coast of New South Wales and Australia for the last 10 years. I have taken many photographs of mushrooms in this forest and I have also taken photographs of mushrooms in some of the most remote forests on the planet. Photographing mushrooms has become a passion that has completely

changed

my

view

of the

world

. This is the first mushroom I photographed. scientific name is Scenarios of the court archeri why did I photograph it well?
stephen axford how fungi changed my view of the world
It was back in 2003, my wife had died five years earlier from breast cancer and then I had a life-threatening illness. I had survived both, but when you face death it makes you rethink your life and I was looking to reinvent myself the wild places along the Australian coast and the ancient forests became a sanctuary for me. I was walking along a coastal path one day when I saw this purple mushroom. I didn't even know there were purple mushrooms and if I had asked what a mushroom was, I could probably tell you that it wasn't a plant, but that's all I knew.
stephen axford how fungi changed my view of the world

More Interesting Facts About,

stephen axford how fungi changed my view of the world...

I was a software engineer and had never studied botany, zoology or any of the life sciences, but after photographing this mushroom I became intrigued by mushrooms my vision of the forest

changed

forever instead of looking up I looked down looking for hidden treasures in the soil these are just some of the mushrooms I discovered in those early days I was very focused on color back then this one is the color hidrosity gramina, a stunning green mushroom that grows in the rainforests of Tasmania. It is quite small, measuring only one to three centimeters wide at the lid.
stephen axford how fungi changed my view of the world
I was very excited when I found this specimen, as it is very difficult to see moss green mushrooms grow. Moss green moss I knelt down and took the photograph which I thought was a very special specimen and when I got up I realized that I had been kneeling in a pile of green mushrooms hidden in green moss. This is a junco that can often be The perfect looking mushroom comes in reds, yellows, purples and greens with bright white gills underneath. They are very attractive to many photographers and many are edible, some tasty, some not so tasty and some not edible.
stephen axford how fungi changed my view of the world
This is one of my favorite mushrooms. It's called a mycenae switch which appears in April and May on fallen wood in many South Australian forests. Awesome, isn't it? All of these species are what people generally consider a mushroom, they have a stem, a cap and gills, but then I got started. I saw mushrooms that looked nothing like this and I realized I had a very narrow

view

of what a mushroom really is like this orange mushroom it's a species of remaria they come in a dazzling array of colors it looks like an underwater coral It's not which of course appealed to me as a photographer, this is one of the many shelf mushrooms I started seeing.
The versicolor of tremiti. These

fungi

last a long time as they decompose large fallen logs and tree stumps, so they tend to be present even when other

fungi

Isn't this Dosa corduroitis? It is an ascomycete that is commonly called cup fungus. I never knew mushroom could be such a beautiful black. By the way, I'm told that cordurite is a group of mushrooms that can be extremely poisonous, so don't worry. Fooled by its beautiful appearance, many people in China are aware of this mushroom. Its name is parisium coraloides, which we know as the coral tooth fungus. We have seen it in the forests of Yunnan and were told by locals that it is an edible mushroom when I started discovering this huge one. diversity of mushrooms was like someone opened my eyes.
I realized that mushrooms were much more than just different colors. What began as a photographic journey later became a journey into fungal science through the vehicle of photography. My first big discovery was that fungi are neither plants nor animals, they are a completely separate kingdom of life. Scientists believe there may be between four and five million fungal species on the planet, but so far we've only documented about two hundred thousand of them, so there's a lot left to learn. The photographs I take are generally mushrooms, the fruiting body of macro fungi, like apples on a tree, some of these saprobic fungi, these are the recyclers of the forest, where the body of the fungus, the mycelium, grows inside the dead wood , with a huge height and branched like a thread. leaves or on the ground breaking up dead vegetation without these sap probes, all the fallen wood in the forest would simply accumulate as it did in the Carboniferous era more than 300 million years ago, when dead trees were gradually compressed into veins of coal. because their era ended when fungi developed the ability to break down lignin in wood and break it down by recycling all those nutrients back into the soil to feed the trees.
Another type of fungus that I photograph in the forest is called ectomycorrhizal fungi, these live in a mutualistic relationship. with trees, they provide them with water, minerals and nutrients from the soil. Trees provide carbohydrates for fungi. Maybe you've heard of wood. Wide Web, that's where the mycelium connects all the trees in a forest through a vast network, to some extent. Trees can communicate with each other through the network, perhaps warning each other about insect pests or sharing nutrients throughout the forest. Scientists are just beginning to discover how trees use this network, but what we do know is that trees are connected in the forest by a network of fungi.
They survive much better than individual trees alone outside the forest. Another very interesting type of fungus that I have been documenting at Forest are parasitic fungi. Some of these are parasites of trees and will eventually kill them. The sun is a parasite of insects. commonly called cordyceps and we have found a lot of them mainly in Asia, but particularly in Yunnan and China we are always excited about cordyceps because they are very difficult to find, you only see the fruiting body coming out of the ground, maybe a little. orange stem and you say, aha, there's a weird quad, this is one of the fun trips I've been on while exploring the fungal kingdom, it's a slime mold, now slime mold is a fascinating thing, more closely related with malaria and amoebic dysentery. which to other life forms has colorful names like dog vomit and wolf milk, but it looks like a fungus, so it tends to be mixed with mushrooms and then lichens.
It is estimated that six percent of the earth's surface is covered. with lichens it is not so surprising many people think that lichens are plants, but in reality they are a mutualistic symbiosis between an alga or cyanobacteria together with two, three or even four species of fungi, the algae provide carbohydrates to the fungus through photosynthesis and fungi. Its function is to provide the structure to the lichen that everyone likes and needs, its algae and all its fungal species to survive everything related to its complex, so I will limit myself to photographing its beauty and leave the science to those who are better. qualified.
The fungal kingdom is full of interesting science like this. Check out this bird's nest mushroom. I often find them growing in mulch in my garden, so they are sacrobian and grow on wood. The interesting thing about these fungi is the way they spread their spores. You can see that there are little eggs inside the nest, each one of them is actually a packet of spores and the nest is what is called a bucket of water, so when it rains, a drop of rain will hit the bucket of water and will splash the reel pack out of the nest, sometimes shooting.
At a distance of up to three meters, there is often a thin thread attached to the reel package when it hits some low vegetation, that thread is wrapped around a twig or leaf that holds the sports package above the ground when it is opened and released spores which are much more likely to spread widely with the wind, is a very successful means of reproduction. I had heard that there were mushrooms that glow in the dark, especially in the tropics, so one rainy moonless night in summer I decided to see if I could find them in my backyard.
I find a lot of mushrooms in my backyard. I turned off the lights in my house and walked among them. some trees growing near the stream and I turned off my flashlight. I was prepared to wait several minutes to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness because the only luminous mushrooms I had seen before were very dim, but as soon as I turned off my flashlight, there were small points of light among the undergrowth. I walked over and found these beautiful little mushrooms glowing a soft luminous green, it was quite magical and I spent many happy hours wandering around at night photographing these beautiful mycenae chloroplasts, sometimes they were so bright I could find my way in the dark paths from the forest with a stick covered in mushrooms.
Finding them opened incredible doors for me to share the story. of mushrooms were the first mushroom I passed in time to my surprise, my wife supported the idea of ​​filling our spare shower with rotten logs that obscured the windows and turning it into a time-lapse studio, but Catherine is a filmmaker foreign expectations of my time The span became more ambitious and I set up two studios, one in the shed and one in a shipping container. When the BBC saw the films I created they fell in love with them, they were shown on planet Earth 2 with David Attenborough and this sequence was listed by the BBC in their top 10 clips from that series oh my god the alien chlorophos and many Other species of forest fungi have been included in 10 other international natural history documentaries.
Tom May, a mycologist or fungal scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, has been very supportive. From our work, he says time lapses bring fungi to life as a mammal for the first time. Ordinary people and scientists can see things they have never seen before. In Australia there are only a handful of mycologists and it is a challenge for them to be in the forest when the mushrooms are fruiting, so the mycologists were very interested in what my photography and time lapses could show them about the mushrooms and my role as In the 19th century, naturalists had the equipment, the passion for the natural

world

, and the time and opportunity to explore.
I became interested not only in capturing the beauty of mushrooms, but also in capturing form and structure with the scientific precision that complemented the research of mycologists for some years. Of the mushrooms we found are so different that there is no doubt that we have discovered something new, the blue one was like the one I first founded about 10 years ago, quite close to my house in this forest, in fact, at first it was not sure. It was a fungus. I thought maybe it was a blue candy wrapper on the ground. It was so blue. I sent samples to Dr.
Tom May and he identified it as a new species similar to specimens first documented in New Caledonia now a decade later. The only original species from New Caledonia has been divided into three species that look similar but not even closely related to each other and this blue mushroom has not yet been given a name. I think it is a fascinating mushroom and Dr Tom May called it the most beautiful mushroom in Australia. I always try to get a time lapse and sometimes I am successful. Messages. Scientific collaborations like this were the next significant stage of how fungi changed my view of the world in 2014.
I received an email from Dr. Peter Mortimer, who is Peter, a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, which is part of the Academy of Sciences of China, and the head of the department, Professor Shu Jian Chu, led a team of mycologists who are conducting extremely interesting fungal research. Peter's father in South Africa had seen my photographs on the Internet and I suggested that he contact me. The result of that first email was four trips together to photograph and document mushrooms in remote forests. It was on these field trips that I realized how edible mushrooms can be in Australia, where called the Mushroom Phobia Society, in our stores you can only find about five species of mushrooms for sale and they are quite boring, the People are generally afraid to eat forest mushrooms, we just don't know which ones are poisonous and which ones are edible, but in Yunnan we discovered that people eat about 900 species of mushrooms, definitely a Filak Society mushroom.
I have to confess that at home I don't really like eating mushrooms, but at one we were introduced to many delicious mushrooms and the local villagers shared their knowledge about what was edible and how to cook them so this is a belitas this is edible you eat you eat this this It's very good it's a kind of typical delicious edible macarons right so this is your favorite to find we also discovered that mushrooms in China is a big business of chanterelles, noWe have seen many of them. It was in the forests of China that we began to understand how interdependent trees, animals and fungi really are.
My view of the world was changing once again. The forest was starting to make sense, it wasn't just a bunch of trees, even in a relatively simple forest, there were probably hundreds of thousands of life forms, all dependent on each other and all contributing to forming what we call a forest from from viruses and from bacteria to fungi, plants and animals, they are all part of the huge and intricate Web of Life and fungi are a really important part of that ecosystem and yet we know so little about them on field trips to China that one in every seven species we document is new to science, but even the ones that are known are truly fascinating.
Here are a couple that I found really exciting. For me, these are called passings and I photographed them for the first time in Yunan. They have a pointed cap that allows them to penetrate the ground from up to one meter below the surface. They live in a mutualistic symbiosis with termites, meaning that neither species can survive without the other. Termites collect grass and wood and carry them under soil to their nest, where they feed them to the fungus, then they eat part of the fungus, the fungus finally bears fruit and pushes the mushrooms up from the ground.
For me, the devices were a complete surprise to me in Australia. We had many termites but no tomato mice, but many species of this fungus are found throughout tropical Asia and Africa. There is a species of this fungus that produces mushrooms up to a meter wide. For me, many devices are valued as a delicious grocery and I often see them in the markets of this region, we certainly like them. This small purple fungus is called lecaria amethystina and grows mutualistically with pine trees. The people of Yunnan value the mushroom as a beautiful edible that looks good in any dish.
I love that it is such a beautiful color, the most poisonous mushroom in the world is an Amanita. Amanita Floyd is more commonly known as the death cap that grows under oak trees around the world and every year people die from eating this mushroom, for example, this Amanita that we documented in Myanmar, we believe. It is part of the Amanita phylloides group and may be the source of several recent fungal deaths. The mycologists we were working with and the village leaders were interested in documenting it to warn people not to eat it, but this is a very similar Amanita mushroom that people in Nepal say is edible, there isn't much difference between them, just to let you know what happens if you eat a Floyd emanate.
Actually, it is said to taste pretty good, but I can't really verify that the first symptom is that you feel a little sick the next day, after three or four days, you are so sick that you know you need to see a doctor, but by then it is usually too late. Amanita philoides contains a poison that destroys our liver very slowly over several weeks as we die, this is a fungus worth avoiding, so there is no doubt that photography can play an important role in educating people about these mushrooms and other poisonous mushrooms, as well as their role in educating people about the mushrooms they can eat.
China's collaboration. has led to similar collaborations in Nepal, Myanmar and India, working with conservation-focused organizations and helping local people manage their forests sustainably. Often, as roads are built, forests are cleared to the detriment of local people. Edible forest mushrooms that could be used for food or trade often disappear with the forests, so the photographs have been used to produce a series of field guides to villages in these countries, but for me the most exciting part It's been documenting all the mushrooms in these remote areas and learning a little bit about how each one interacts with the forest and mushrooms in the Eastern Himalayas has been absolutely magnificent over the last year.
Our role as mushroom educators has taken on an even broader view of these international mushroom adventures that we often present to our contributors. We observe the mushrooms for the first time with joy as they become excited about this world that they had never noticed before. Every time we see them become almost as passionate and obsessed as us and we want to see if we can make this happen. on an international scale, so in India in 2018 we filmed our entire Mushroom Safari, here is a small sample of what we did. This is a scene where we first document a luminous mushroom in Magalia, a time lapse with eyes of mushroom species that never stops Wow, it's my chlorophos Sina.
It is a very bright luminous mushroom that I find in my local woods. Wherever we go, we always ask if there is a local variety. Usually the answer is no. Do you have any glow-in-the-dark mushrooms here? If you have. Yes, can you find many of them? Yes, of course, what are these mushrooms called? This is called a shiny mushroom because it will give a delay in NATO. Can we go down and find some? I will definitely contact you. That's brilliant. Look these. They are nothing like the mushrooms we have at home, the stems shine, yes, but the caps do not shine, while at home the caps shine and the stems only grow they shine a little, so it is a symptom, but different species They are the same but different, yes.
I can't really see them with the light on, but we'll put them in the dark and I can photograph them with a long exposure and then you'll really see them in all their glory. There are currently around 80 species of luminous mushrooms recorded on the planet, but only a handful of them shine as brightly as this one. This is the first time the Malanong glow fungus has been documented and when its DNA was analyzed we discovered that it is a new species. Now I'm going to take you back to my home in Australia in 2019 we experienced one of the worst bushfire seasons we have ever seen. 17 million hectares of land were burned.
Over 5 million in my state of New South Wales alone it was very scary and destructive and particularly scary when the rainforest started burning near where we lived days after the fire had ended we started hearing reports from firefighters that mushrooms were appearing in the ashes so we drove out into the blackened landscape to see what we could find, we were surprised that there were a lot of mushrooms and they were species we had never seen before. This is what is called a stone-making fungus. It started appearing a day or two after the fire, while the ground was still hot and smoking.
It lives on Earth for many years and forms a hard piece of mycelium underground that resembles a stone, hence the name, it only bears fruit when there is a fire which in this particular forest can occur only once every hundred years . We then saw masses of small cup-shaped mushrooms covering the ground and were able to identify them as anthropobia gallinari. I began to wonder about its role in protecting the forest floor, since fire tends to make the soil very fragile and easy to wash away or wash away, but this fungus seemed to bind the soil surface together and retain moisture.
For me, these mushrooms raised a lot of questions. Where does this fungus live when there is no fire? It doesn't have a deep mycelial reserve that I could see. I had read that there was a similar fungus in North America that lived as a microscopic fungus in the cellular structure of mosses, perhaps this did something similar and it only became a macro fungus when the fire had sterilized the soil of all organisms. competitors. We even found mushrooms in spaces beneath the charcoal, where fallen logs once lay on the forest floor. This would have been where the fire was hottest, how could this happen?
How could the spores reach soil that had been completely sterilized by fire? The variety of fire-loving mushrooms was amazing and then when we came back a month later, different mushrooms appeared, we posted some videos and the response surprised us. Many of the locals told us that they were encouraged by this positive information, among all the news about Destruction, they were encouraged to hear how resilient the forest could be thanks in this case to its fungi, life is such a wonderful thing and we know so bit. Most of all, as I told you at the beginning, I used to work as a software engineer on very large computer systems and systems that we consider very complex, but a computer system is designed by humans and yet we are enough together and we can explain everything about them , but even the smallest system in the natural world is more complex than the largest computer system and then when we consider that there are trillions or even billions of organisms on the planet, we begin to get an idea of ​​how complex life on Earth really is. is.
I began this journey knowing a little about photography but very little about the natural world, learning about the complexity of fungi and, through them, the complexity of life. I now realize that life on this planet is more interconnected than I am. We might once have imagined that we are just an organism in that story and yet we have the means to destroy everything, including ourselves, because we cannot survive on our own with all the extraordinary tools we have created. We humans have a wonderful opportunity to learn and conserve one of the scientists we collaborate with in India said that you can't conserve a forest ecosystem if you don't know what's there and I think we've been given this wonderful opportunity to help. to document a very small part of this complexity and share it with you from a photograph of a very small purple mushroom on the ground.
I was taken on a journey that reveals the very broad picture of life on this planet. Thank you.

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