Ramaria botrytoides collected from the Kondallilla Falls National Park in south-eastern Queensland. The species is now known to be widespread in the area and is also known from Victoria. [Photo: Anthony Young]
Mr Nigel Fechner during a field trip to the Gibraltar Range, New South Wales, collecting truffle-like fungi. Two previously known and two new species of Ramaria were also collected during this trip. [Photo: Anthony Young]
An undescribed species of Ramaria from the Mt Mee forest in south-eastern Queensland showing both the juvenile stages and some old and contorted mature fruiting bodies. [Photo: Anthony Young]
A fully mature fruiting body of the species shown in Picture 1 above. The alteration of both colour and structure of the fruiting body is considerable and such changes are believed to be at least partly responsible for published descriptions of new species. [Photo: Anthony Young]
Report from an ABRS grantee
Ramaria in Australia
Like many other fungal groups, the coralloid genus Ramaria is relatively unknown in Australia as regards the number of species, their geographical distributions and their ecologies. Although there are over 1,000 herbarium collections of Australian material that can be assigned to the genus (both in Australia and in overseas herbaria), intensive examination of all of these specimens, coupled with additional field work, has never been attempted previously. There have been sporadic attempts to begin work on at least some of the Australian or Australasian taxa (Cleland, 1931; Fawcett, 1939a, 1939b, 1940; Petersen, 1969, 1988; Petersen & Watling, 1989). However, due to the limited number of collections that were studied by these researchers, it is fair to say that many poorly known taxa are still inadequately defined.
Species of Ramaria are distinguished by having (usually) extensively branched, coralloid fruiting bodies that are often brilliantly coloured with reds, oranges, yellows and purples. White and brown tones are also frequent, and quite often the apices of the branches are differently coloured from the branch surfaces. Many other coralloid species also exhibit these characteristics, but species of Ramaria are distinguished by the fact that they produce basidiospores that are yellow-ochre to brown in colour with surface ornamentations consisting of warts or striations or spines. There are rare taxa in Europe which produce brown spores that are almost perfectly smooth; however, no known Australian species of Ramaria produces such spores. There are also proposals to place the spiny-spored species of Ramaria into the separate genus Phaeoclavulina, but this remains a matter for future discussion, and all species would still remain within the same order (Gomphales).
The genus Ramaria is very important to Australian forestry because it not only contains many recycling species, but also a very large group of taxa that enter into mycorrhizal relationships with species of the Myrtaceae (eucalypts, etc) and the genus Nothofagus. There are suggestions that other higher plant genera, such as Agathis and Allocasuarina, may form similar mycorrhizal relationships with Ramaria.
The present study has so far shown that the genus is widespread over Australia and it is present along the eastern coastal margins (and associated mountains) from the Queensland wet tropics to Victoria and South Australia. Initial observations suggest that the genus is widespread in Tasmania, and there are numerous species in Western Australia’s south-west eucalypt forests and woodlands. For the moment, it cannot be stated with any certainty that a particular taxon is limited to one area of Australia simply because insufficient information is available about the distributions of most taxa. Conversely, two or three taxa are now known to have very wide geographical distributions. One particular species, Ramaria lorithamnus, seems to appear wherever there are eucalypts.
Identifying these taxa is extremely difficult, and this study has proven to be one of the most challenging tasks yet undertaken by us. It is only now, after two years of intensive work, that firm concepts for at least some of the taxa are taking shape.
Ramaria fruiting bodies exhibit an extremely wide range of macrocharacters of both shape and colour, and juvenile fruiting bodies often bear little resemblance to the colours and shapes exhibited by mature fruiting bodies. Previous publications relevant to at least some Australian taxa do not sufficiently describe this situation and ‘unscrambling’ the problem is often tedious and very time-consuming. Even more confusing is the fact that microcharacters (such as spore and basidial dimensions) vary enormously depending upon fruiting body maturity or even the sampling location on the fruiting body. Lastly, the fruiting bodies of species of Ramaria generally exhibit a remarkable lack of ‘species definitive microcharacters’, and many herbarium collections are virtually impossible to separate microscopically. Accurate identification of dried material relies heavily upon the relevant field notes to provide information on colour and shape, and in far too many instances these are totally lacking from herbarium collections, and routine microscopic study is thus rendered almost useless. It is hoped that molecular analysis may shed some light on some of these collections.
At the beginning of this study, 35 taxa were listed for Australia (May et al., 2003). Examination of existing herbarium specimens soon made it obvious that a number of these records were erroneously based on European species that definitely do not occur here. It is now believed that approximately 20 of the 35 taxa listed in May et al. (2003) are reliable records for Australia. In addition, our studies indicate that we currently have 12 undescribed species, so that when our investigation is completed, the total number of Australian taxa will be at least 50 species.
Further work will hopefully include SEM photography of the spores of each taxon, at least some molecular studies and the preparation of a Lucid key to the Australian taxa. A ‘skeleton’ Lucid key to the taxa is now in an advanced stage of preparation.
Cleland, J.B. (1931), Australian fungi: notes and descriptions—8, Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia 55: 152–160.
Fawcett, S.G.M. (1939a), Studies on the Australian Clavariaceae, Part I, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, n. ser. 51: 1–20.
Fawcett, S.G.M. (1939b), Studies on the Australian Clavariaceae, Part II, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, n. ser. 51: 265–280.
Fawcett, S.G.M. (1940), Studies on the Australian Clavariaceae, Part III, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, n. ser, 52: 153–163.
May, T.W., Milne, J., Shingles, S. & Jones, R.H. (2003), Catalogue and Bibliography of Australian Fungi 2. Basidiomycota p.p. & Myxomycota p.p. Fungi of Australia Volume 2B. ABRS /CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.
Petersen, R.H. (1969), Type studies in the clavarioid fungi. III. The taxa described by J.B.Cleland, Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 96: 457–466.
Petersen, R.H. (1988), The clavarioid fungi of New Zealand, Bulletin, New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research 236: 1–170.
Petersen, R.H. & Watling, R. (1989), New or interesting Ramaria taxa from Australia, Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh 46: 141–159.