Mushrooms! Photo Evidence of Penang’s Biodiversity

By Ooi Geok Ling

January 2022 PHOTO ESSAY
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Does this look like a “turkey tail” to you? It is the common name of this Trametes versicolor, owing to its multiple colours. Location: At Mount Olivia.
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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

Brightly-coloured small mushrooms found on a rock surface in Bukit Hijau. Technically, as decomposers, they grow on the organisms on the rock. Like moss, for instance.

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!

Interestingly, this shelf fungus strongly resembles what is called Chicken of the Woods, when using the iNaturalist’s app for identification. Without a full examination by a mycologist on its meat colour, smell, texture and surface texture, one should not presume a subject’s genus. Location: Just outside the Mangrove Park in Balik Pulau.
An Agaricus, judging from the gills on its underside. Location: Along Coronation Trail.
This cute little yellow ball is potentially from the Scleroderma genus, also known as a mycorrhizal fungi for its symbiotic relationship with the host plant. Locations: At Bukit Hijau and Mount Olivia.
This was an unusual sight as all other mushrooms I have found were on or near the ground. Identified as the Lentinus genus. Location: Along Mount Olivia to Station 46 Trail.
The Fomitopsis genus is characterised by its tough and woody body texture. Location: Along Black Pipe Trail.
Another species of the Lentinus genus “making waves” on a fallen timber pole. Location: Along Moniot Trail.
Unidentified alien-looking mushrooms. Location: Along Black Pipe Trail.
These mushrooms are as gold as the stupas which are located close by. Location: Between Point 84 on Penang Hill and the Middle Station.
Pretty in pink. The tiny conical caps and thin fragile stems suggest the mushrooms are from the Mycena genus. Location: At Bukit Hijau.
Potentially another Trametes. One with an untrained eye can mistake this for the widely-known Lingzhi due to its colour, but Lingzhi is of another genus called Ganoderma, which has a thicker body structure. Location: At Mount Olivia.
The furthest shape to a mushroom one can imagine, from the Cookeina genus. Location: At Bukit Teluk Tempoyak Besar.
Flower-shaped mushrooms identified as the Lentinus genus. Location: At Mount Olivia
Note the little fly on the pileus (cap) of the mushroom with the longest stipe (stem). Mushrooms attract insects to help spread their spores. Location: At Mount Olivia.
These scale-like mushrooms are doing their job decomposing this fallen tree trunk. How long will it take, I wonder?

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.

1 https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/12/thousands-poisoned-bymushrooms-in-france-in-recent-years/

2 https://www.thesundaily.my/style-life/going-viral/family-gets-poisonedafter-eating-wild-mushrooms-from-garden-IK8581028

Ooi Geok Ling

likes trying most things once, provided they are not detrimental to her body or her pocket. Too much.