WORDS: Karin Holzknecht, PHOTOS: Karin Holzknecht & Bec Korossy-Horwood
Last weekend, on Saturday 12 October, some very curious Horticultured members gathered to hear all about the secret life of fungi from Dr Sapphire McMullan-Fisher.
Sapphire is a fungal ecology expert at the Royal Botanic Gardens, an author for Fungi-Map and a passionate fungi lecturer from La Trobe University. She is also a gifted speaker and quickly had us all enthralled.
“Try to not to think like a discrete organism,” she challenged us all, before diving into her lecture. Over the next few hours she explained how complex fungi are and how integral to our world.
We covered basic biology of fungi, structure, form, physiology, and reproduction. Then Sapphire took us through the general understanding of what makes up the ecosystem (sun, water, herbivores, carnivores, decomposers etc.), and demonstrated the roles that fungi play at every point.
Ultimately, fungi are critical to ecosystem success. They create multiple connections and perform multiple jobs, and are the third largest group of species in Australia (after invertebrates and microbes). Yet we know hardly anything about them, and the vast majority of funding for research and conservation goes to plants and animals, which make up just 7 per cent of Australia’s total species.
As land managers, we should be asking, what diversity of fungi are needed for healthy, functioning environments? What are the fungi in our environments and what jobs are they doing? How can we manage the soil to take the critical functions of fungi into account?
All these revelations were hunger-making, so we feasted on pizza, some with fungi toppings, before heading out into Burnley Gardens in search of lab samples. We fossicked about, particularly near fallen trees, and found some great fungi to examine.
Back in the lab, Sapphire gave us some tips on what to look for when identifying a fungus (e.g. spore prints), handy tools for the field, and good reference books. And then we got out the microscopes and spent some time examining the samples we collected. They definitely look a lot different up close!
On the whole it was an action-packed day and all of us who went along are very grateful to Bec White, who volunteered her time as lab technician so we could hold the workshop, and to Sapphire, who gave so generously of her knowledge and her infectious enthusiasm for the subject. The life of fungi, not quite as secret as before!
Thank you also to everyone who came along - we know it's a tricky time of semester for some. If you missed out or would like to learn more about fungi, we're planning to host a fungi walk in prime fungi season (Autumn) next year. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on that! In the meantime we encourage you to check out the resources on Fungi-Map; you can even get involved in a spot of crowd-sourced citizen science by submitting records of fungi you find.
WORDS: Karin Holzknecht, PHOTO: Julianna Rozek
A bunch of keen beans met up on Sunday to see a movie called Good Things Await, and helped our club live up to the 'cultured' part of its name by participating in one of the most cultured festivals in Victoria, the Melbourne International Film Festival (or MIFF).
We gazed around at the geometric lighting of the Victorian Treasury Theatre while waiting for the film to start and also decided that the comfy lecture theatre chairs would be quite nice installed at Burnley. Then the lights dimmed, and with a big pink OINK our viewing experience began.
OINK is a short film following a New Zealand pig farmer as he walks around his farm. He moves pigs from one concrete steel-barred shed to another, visits the birthing suite, gathers piglets into a barrow and throws them into pens with piles of fresh straw and primes sows with bags of semen - all the while giving out his honest unassuming philosophy on his style of farming and how demand drives supply. White Balance Films, who made OINK, are apparently going to further explore the themes of this short film and another called I Kill, and produce a feature length film called We Kill trying to break down the barrier between packaged meat and the living animal (here's the source for my rumour mill).
It certainly made an interesting juxtaposition for the main feature film, Good Things Await. The film opens with beautiful bucolic scenery accompanied by the a cappella Danish crooning of a choir. A herd of cows, the last of the original Danish red cattle breed, are shown moving through long grass backlight by a mellow sun. And then one bellows, and you see the hooves of her about-to-be-born calf poking out from under her tail, and a very tense breach-birth sequence ensues involving a rope, one camera man and the bellows of an anguished cow. Apart from giving my knuckles a good whitening it certainly served as a character introduction to Niels, the elderly biodynamic farmer who runs the place.
The film ostensibly follows Niels' struggles to keep farming biodynamically despite rules and regulations attached to his 'organic' status and reduction of carbon emissions, and the slow demise of the buildings on the farm due to lack of funds - while managing to feel like a long slow walk through a year with the cows. Niels' philosophical musings about how everything is interconnected and how the flowers act like a parabolic dish and how everything passes through the spirit of a worm combine with the seasonal shots and some great close-ups on PLANTS to convey a real sense of ecology. You could be a little unsure about his reasoning sometimes, but there's no doubting Niels loves his cows and the feeling is mutual. There are lots of tender, funny moments courtesy of the interactions between farmer and farmed. And ultimately it's an uplifting film because despite all the struggles and people not getting it, Niels really believes that his way of farming belongs to the future, rather than the past.
Having canvassed the masses, my conclusion is: 4 out of 5 carrots (thanks Jenny!). But don't take my word for it, why not see it for yourselves? See trailer tease below.
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Read all about it: MUC Garden and Burnley Student Association share updates on their activities.