Dr Peter Buchanan, of Landcare Research NZ Ltd, introduces the wonderful world of fungi. There are more fungal species than there are plant species, and they have a range of roles, both positive and negative. Fungi are important recyclers of nutrients in the forest and help plants take up minerals from the soil.
DR PETER BUCHANAN
There is a kingdom called plants and there is a kingdom called animals, but there is another kingdom called fungi – it’s entirely separate from the plants and the animals – and, in fact, the kingdom fungi is larger than the kingdom plants. We think there are about a million and half species of fungi in the world. They are incredibly numerous, and they are doing some really fundamental things that we basically take for granted. For example, there is the food aspect of fungi and particularly amongst the mushrooms, which are the larger fruiting stages of some fungi. There are some that are OK to eat, there are mushrooms that you wouldn't think about eating, and there are poisonous mushrooms, and just as you don't put a plant in your mouth that you don't know is edible, you also don't put a mushroom in your mouth unless you know it is edible. The most deadly poisonous mushroom does occur in New Zealand, and it only occurs under oak trees, and it’s called the death cap. That mushroom is so deadly, in fact that one cap – one fruiting body – if you ate it, you could die.