The hunt is on for Tasmania’s glowing ghost mushrooms


The holy grail of mushrooms, the ghostly mushroom, glows bright green when photographed at night with long exposure.(Supplied: Herman Anderson)

There is a trick to correctly identifying a mushroom, according to enthusiast Helen Robertson.

“The secret is to get down to the fungus level, you’ve literally got to lie on the forest floor,” .

“Get really low, and get it from the fungus perspective.

“You see a lot more detail.”

Dr Robertson said looking at a mushroom’s stem, or stipe, and underneath the cap was the key to nailing down its specific type.

“You’ve got a look under the skirt to see who it is,” she said.

Dr Robertson and fellow enthusiast Pat Harrison are regular mushroom hunters.

The pair spend hours combing the forest floors of Tasmania’s north-west in search of new and exotic breeds of fungi & mushrooms


Helen Robertson says she has found in excess of 340 different species of fungi on just her own property.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

“It’s a combo of ‘they’re beautiful’ and ‘the thrill of the chase ‘— you’ve got to find them,” Dr Robertson said.

“The first one I saw was Cortinarius archeri, which is bright purple, and I went, oh, this is fabulously incredible.”

A trip near Dip River Forest Reserve in north-west Tasmania revealed an Aladdin’s cave of fungal treasure, only just a few metres from the road.

“You might feel cold or off colour until you see your first fungi, and you forget that your hands hurt and the knees ache and your hips hurt and you just go forward & get in there.”


The first mushroom Helen Robertson encountered in the Tasmanian forest was a Cortinarius archeri.(Supplied: Helen Robertson)

High rainfall and warm conditions create ideal conditions for fungi fans.

“North-west Tasmania is one of the best places because it’s such a wet damp forest,” Dr Robertson said.

Dr Robertson’s bed and breakfast in Rocky Cape backs onto bushland that provides her with fertile mushroom & fungii hunting grounds.

“On my property alone so far I’ve found over 340 different species,” she said.


Helen Robertson and Pat Harrison spend hours scouring forest floors & under canopies for exotic fungi.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

“I can go for a walk every day and find something so different. It’s incredible.”

One morning she had discovered a red anemone stinkhorn in her vegetable patch, with half a dozen more looking set to follow.

An uncapped variety of life


No matter how cold and sore you are, you forget about it when you find fungi.(Supplied: Helen Robertson)

It is the myriad of colours, shapes and sizes that attracts many fans to the art of finding and photographing interesting & fabulous fungi.

“Tasmania has undoubtedly the best biodiversity for fungi in the world,” Dr Robertson said.

Enthusiasts share their finds on a Facebook page called Tasmanian Fungi. The niche page has grown from 250 members to more than 12,000 over the last decade as fungi fanatics on the mainland and around the world admire the state’s offerings.

“Other places have their spring flowers, we have our autumn fungi,” Dr Robertson said.

For Dr Harrison, an 82-year-old retired obstetrician, it is the scienftiic aspect  behind fungi that has captured her imagination for the past 15 years.


Pat Harrison has been hunting for fungi for 15 years.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

“I love knowing what the fungi are actually doing in the forest,” she said.

“Fungi can’t make their own energy. They get that sort of thing from the trees and they break up all the minerals — they’re such great ideal forest recyclers.

“It’s, you know, the joy of the hunt.”

But the pair insist that while they are fungi fans, they are in no way foragers.

“In our Facebook group, we do not discuss edibility,” Dr Robertson warned.

“We strictly find and photograph.”


Helen Robertson says she never eats the fungi she finds.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

Earlier this year health authorities issued a warning after a seven-fold increase in the number of mushroom-related calls to the Poison Information Line from Tasmania during autumn.

“All fungi is edible, but most of them only once, because you’re going to die,” Dr Roberston said.

“The safest thing to do is only eat the ones you buy in the supermarket.

“Because even when you know what you’re doing, you can make a mistake.”

Holy grail of mushrooms


A ghost mushroom on Herman Anderson’s property.(Supplied: Herman Anderson)

If there is a holy grail of the mushroom kingdom it is Omphalotus nidiformis, commonly known as the ghost mushroom.

And if the ghost mushroom is the grail, then Herman Anderson is one of its Knights Templar.

Plodding through the back paddocks of Latrobe, near Devonport, Mr Anderson has identified more than 400 species of mushrooms on the hill behind his house, known as Dooleys Hill.

“When I post any photos on Facebook I say whether it’s BC or AC, before coffee or after coffee, because I stop at the shop on the way,” he told 7.30.


Herman Anderson says fungi hunting is a better retirement hobby than lawn bowls.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

When 7.30 visited, Mr Anderson took us up the hill under the light of a full moon in search of “ghosties”.

Expecting to head deep into the forest, things came to an abrupt halt when Mr Anderson pulled his ute to the shoulder of the road and pointed to an old gum tree wedged between the culvert and a grazier’s fence.

“Right, we’re here,” he said.

“They like the old woods, see.”

The secrets of the ‘ghosties’


A ghost mushroom glowing green.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

By day these mushrooms look like any brown fungus sprouting from the side or base of a tree, but by night they take on a whitish hue.

With a little magic of photography, a long exposure, the images of the mushrooms turn a luminescent green.

“Ghost fungus is the most striking one. But you have to have a camera for it,” Mr Anderson said.

“You’ve got to have a steady hand and it’s a long exposure as well. You can go up to five minutes.

“We don’t know how the glow comes into it. But there’s some sort of reaction.

“It’s a process called bioluminescence.”

For Mr Anderson, a former storeman, it is a far superior retirement hobby than lawn bowls or kayaking.

“I did lawn bowls when I was younger,” he said.

“I’ve done a fair bit of bushwalking, and once I saw all these organisms and how pretty they were, I decided I’d use Dooleys Hill as my study area.

“I love looking. And it gives me a buzz.

“As soon as we find one we do a Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie, I tell ya’.”



Henry Sapiecha

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