Mushrooms! Photo Evidence of Penang’s Biodiversity
By Ooi Geok LingJanuary 2022 PHOTO ESSAY
BEFORE I STARTED hiking during the lockdowns, I had only ever thought of mushrooms as those found in supermarkets, either fresh or dried. But they are now my favourite subjects to photograph, despite their disrupting the momentum of my hikes. I only wish I carry a better camera instead of my ubiquitous smartphone, Leica lens notwithstanding. In less than a year, I have photographed a small collection of mushrooms from all around Penang, yet another testimony to the Island’s biodiversity!
Mushrooms, I learn, are crucial to the Earth’s ecosystem. They decompose dead plants and animal matter by secreting enzymes, breaking them down to usable compounds for growth – mushrooms lack chlorophyll, after all. Other plants too benefit from the process, by absorbing the nutrients created by these natural recyclers.
Besides their distinctive tastes and textures, edible mushrooms have also great nutritional and medicinal properties. In France, foraging for wild mushrooms is a popular activity despite the reporting of more than a thousand cases of mushroom poisoning per year!1 Such incidents do happen in Malaysia too, of course, although the numbers here are far fewer; the most recent of which was reported in Terengganu in November 2021.2
According to the Mushroom Research Centre at Universiti Malaya, there are 2,000 mushroom species, of which less than 50 are poisonous. But don’t be fooled by the numbers. There may not be an abundance of poisonous mushrooms around, but whether intentional or not, they are clever in their disguise as edible ones. So unless one is an expert on edible mushrooms, perhaps it is safer to stick to commercially available ones for your omelettes, salads or side dishes. But like me, if you keep coming across them, then just whip out your camera, point and shoot!
I wish to record my thanks to Dr. Rosnida Tajuddin from the School of Biological Sciences at USM for her guidance. Without actual samples and photographs taken from more angles, we could not be more precise in our identification of these mushrooms.
Ooi Geok Ling
likes trying most things once, provided they are not detrimental to her body or her pocket. Too much.