Maybe it’s because I was a city kid, or most likely, it’s because I’m a fantasy writer – but the word ‘forest’ is usually enough to conjure story ideas in my mind. Add the words ‘glowing mushrooms’ and I’ve entered a whole new dimension. So once I learned about Ghost Mushrooms (special mushrooms that grow in forests near Mount Gambier, and glow in the darkness), I had to see them for myself. I had gone to Mount Gambier once before (January 2019) for a research trip to see forests, sinkholes, dormant volcanoes, caves, the Blue Lake and The Tantanoola Tiger. And I loved the region so much, I was eager to return. So finding out about the ghost mushrooms was just the excuse I needed.
Luckily for me, my children and husband were just as eager to see them too:-)
Okay, so what exactly are these ‘special mushrooms’?
They’re a bio-luminescent fungus that grows on rotting tree trunks and stumps. If you head to Mount Gambier, you’ll find them at Ghost Mushroom Lane in the OneFortyOne Pine Forest Plantation in Glencoe (16km out of Mount Gambier). By the way, their scientific name is Omphalotus nidiformis but if that’s a mouthful, just stick with Ghost Mushrooms:-). According to the Forestry SA website, this species is native to Australia. The glow (bioluminescence) comes from a chemical reaction between oxygen and an enzyme in the mushroom, and you can see this glow, once the sun sets and it’s dark.
The mushrooms only glow from May to June each year (so it’s a pretty narrow window of opportunity to see them). Unfortunately Ghost Mushroom Lane is closed this year (2020), due to Covid 19, but according to the Forestry SA website, it will be up and running again next year (2021).
We took a lot of photos during our visit and I thought I’d share some of our observations and tips for anyone interested in going to check them out in the future.
About the mushroom trails
The first thing you need to know is that there are four main trails off Ghost Mushroom Lane (the main road through the plantation). These include: Fairy Tale Hollow, Fungi Hunter Ally, Ghostly Gully and The Neon Forest. Some of these trails are shorter than the others, but I’d recommend going during the daylight hours so you can see the layout of the area, get familiar with the trails, and also, so you can put some markers down (flags) to help you find the mushrooms in the darkness.
What to take with you
It gets pretty cold down in Mount Gambier. The night we went it was about 7 degrees Celsius. For people who live in areas where it snows, this might be a balmy night for you – but if you’re from somewhere it doesn’t, or you’re someone who feels the cold, then trust me, you’ll want warm clothes (including a beanie, scarf, thermals, thick socks, and gloves), an umbrella, a torch and rain boots. May to June is a damp time of year, and the ground can be slippery, so make sure you’ve got sturdy footwear. You’ll definitely need a torch (and don’t just rely on your phone). Although each of the trails were marked, it’s easy to get lost and disoriented in the dark (especially if you’re not used to walking in the forest).
Know what you’re looking for in advance
The weekend we went, it was a full moon, and the mushroom glow was hard to see. So I’d recommend getting familiar with how the mushrooms look in the daylight first, so it’s easier to find them at night (especially if you go when it’s a full moon and the glow is more subtle).
As you can see (pictures above) the Ghost Mushrooms are white in colour, and personally, I think they look more like a flower than a mushroom (they make me think of a hibiscus:-). Some of the Ghost Mushrooms had a brown centre (more about that in a moment). Also, they’re quite big. In fact, the largest we saw were about the size of my husband’s hand. Below is a picture of my son’s hand beside one of the big mushrooms.
Many of the mushrooms we saw were developing these dark brown centres (see the picture above). Some of the mushrooms had very little white left, and others were almost completely black. We found the most luminescent mushrooms were the whitest mushrooms with the least amount of brown, while the mushrooms with a large brown centre (or the mushrooms that were mostly brown) didn’t glow well at all and the mushrooms with black, barely glowed (most likely because they were decomposing by this stage).
Other cool things to see
While the ghost mushrooms are fascinating, there are so many other beautiful things to see in the forest if you walk slowly, and look closely. I took so many photos, but these are some of my favourites:
If you do a search for Ghost Mushrooms on google or instagram, you’ll see thousands of beautiful images . The vast majority of images taken by professional photographers will be spectacular (especially of the green glow). In our experience, the mushrooms we saw didn’t glow anywhere near as much or look as green as in those images, however, we went very late in the season, and during a full moon, two factors which probably impacted what we saw.
We didn’t take our DSLR during our trip, and so this photo was taken with my phone and enhanced a little with brightness/ contrast and a tiny bit of torch light in the background (and it doesn’t really do it justice). I’d absolutely love to go again (when it isn’t a full moon!) and I’d like to take the DSLR and a tripod too:-)
As we drove out of Ghost Mushroom Lane each night, mist settled over the road, kangaroos stood by the side of the road and the full moon shone brightly.
All in all, it was a pretty magical weekend. I came away with so many ideas (and of course, the night forest, and glowing mushrooms feature in Wolf Mother ;-).
The Moonstruck Mother Series (Book 1).
A mother, a full moon, and menopause. What could go wrong?
A quirky, feel-good, women’s fiction meets urban fantasy tale.