Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mushroom Mystery Down Under

Mushroom Mystery Down Under

by Arthur Bennett

Let’s face it. If you came across this fungus at least 30 cm tall and with that enormous nipple at the top, you would surely notice it. You might hesitate to touch it for it is covered with sticky scales and you certainly wouldn’t taste it, for it is very obviously an Amanita. Yet this magnificent mushroom, this amazing Amanita has only been sighted nine times ever, that is ever since New Zealand has been crawling with thousands of trampers and amateur mycologists armed with cameras. There is a mystery to be solved here.
Three years ago I came across a fungus I had never seen before.  When I sent pictures to New Zealand Landcare National Herbarium, they started jumping up and down with excitement. They had one dried specimen and mine were the first good photographs.
This fungus is very large, 250mm or taller with an absolutely unique umbo like a 20mm nipple.  The most accepted common name for this fungus is the Noddy Cap, although for a number of years there was some confusion because the name was mistakenly used for another fungus. Peter Austwick was giving a talk on both the Noddy Cap and Lepiota nauseosa, but in the report the two were accidently conflated: “Peter Austwick finished off the morning with a talk on Lepiota nauseosa (which he nicknames "noddy caps" due to it's peaked cap), a fungus that smells like vomit.” (
Because of this confusion, I was calling it the Stovepipe Amanita for a while, but the common name Noddy Cap should of course take precedence and Geoff Ridley suggests we follow his protocol for common names and call it the Noddy Flycap.
This is now the fungus listed as: 101 NZ-12 . species 2 of G. S. Ridl. [RID88] [RID91] (New Zealand) (Spores: 9 - 12 × 9 - 12 μm; Q = 1.00) in Tuloss’ Checklist of Australian and New-Zealand Amanita

To the best of my knowledge  and writing on the 6th May 2014 this fungus has only ever been found 15 times since its first sighting around 1980, although at at least 2 of these locations the fungus reappeared in subsequent years at teh same spot.
These instances are as follows:
1.    Somewhere in Northland, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.
2.   Under Chamaecyparis in Cornwall Park, Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.
3. In the garden of mycologist Barbara Segedin under Chamaecyparis in Auckland, North Island, New Zealand.
4. Sighted by Don Pittham under a grapefruit tree in a garden in Whangarei, North Island, New Zealand..
5.  Collected by Peter Auswick at Ruakura, Hamilton, North Island, New Zealand.
6.    Photographed by Ron and Angela Freeston on Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour, North Island, New Zealand.
7.    Sighted by Ron and Angela Freeston In Percy Scenic Reserve, Lower Hutt, North Island, New Zealand.
8.    Sighted by Geoff Ridley in Otari/Wilton Reserve, Wilton, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand.
9. Photographed by Dave Bartram under Pohutakawa at Cable Bay, Northland, North Island, New Zealand.
10. Also by Dave Bartram in a stand of  totara, puriri with some pohutukawa on his land half way between Kaikohe and Kerikeri in Northland, North Island, New Zealand.
11.    Photographed by Tony and Barb Cameron among grass somewhere in Nelson, South Island, New Zealand.
12.    Sighted by Arthur and Gillian Bennett under Podocarpus totara at Pakowhai Country Park, near Hastings, North Island, New Zealand.
13. Photographed by Jon Sullivan under planted native species in Ashgrove Reserve, Somerfield, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand.
14. Photographed by Melissa Hutchison growing in native bush near Little River on Banks Peninsula, South Island, New Zealand.
15. Sighted by Andy Jones in his garden at Te Onepu, Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand.

A confusing feature of the above sightings is that the term Northland refers both to a suburb of Wellington and the northernmost province of New Zealand.

One of the first specimens found some twenty years ago in an Auckland park was written up by Geoff Ridley as follows:
Amanita sp. 2 Biostatus:Present in region - Exotic
Article: Ridley, G.S. (1991). The New Zealand species of Amanita (Fungi: Agaricales). Australian Systematic Botany 4(2): 325-354.
Description: This is a unique species amongst the Amanita with its unusual elongated umbo. The volva consisting of rows of large, inflated, cylindrical cells places it in subsection Vittadinae of section and subgenus Lepidella. Unfortunately the lamellae were in poor condition, making it difficult to determine the presence or absence of clamp connections at the base of the basidia. Using both options the most satisfactory stirps appears to be Thiersii (Bas 1969), with its clampless basidia and globose basidiospores. Amanita sp. 2 is very similar to A. thiersii Bas and A. aureoftoccosa Bas, differing principally in its larger basidlospores and unusual pileus. A. thiersii was collected from a lawn in Texas, and A. aureofloccosa from dry forest in the Congo. The present species was found on a lawn under Chamaecyparis, an introduced ornamental tree. Considering its habitat and limited known distribution, it was probably introduced to New Zealand with Chamaecyparis from Europe or North America.”

 Noddy Flycap (Amanita sp.2) Matiu/Somes Island
Photo owned by Angela and Ron Freeston

The specimen found on Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour in 1998 by Angela and Ron Freeston was described thus: “By far the most exciting find was a yet unnamed Amanita with its pointed cap and stipe thickly covered with felty grey scales, previously thought to be a rare sub-tropical species. How did it get to Matiu/Somes Island? “
 In an e-mail to me Angela states:
“Ron and I found this fungi on Somes Island in February 1998. It was in Karaka. Mahoe, Pohutakawa etc. mixed with odd Pinus Bush. We identified it as an unknown Amanita and sent it together with photograph and specimen to Geoff Ridley as a working mycologist with whom we had a long standing relationship. A photo went to Peter Buchanan of Landcare Research in Auckland. A year or so later we found a second specimen in Percy Scenic Reserve, Petone. Later we heard it had provisionally been called Noddy Cap. It was said to be a sub tropical species found twice before in Northland. A similar (probably identical) species was found a year ago (2008?) at Otari native reserve Wellington. It is somewhat lighter in colour, brownish, more like a Macrolepiota species, however we did not see it personally, just the photo so we will have to take Geoff's word for it. Geoff did not see our fresh specimen just the dried sample.”
Here is the Otari specimen:

Noddy Flycap (Amanita sp.2) Otari-Wilton’s Bush

Photo owned by Otari-Wilton's Bush - Visitor Information Centre

My own sighting was in May 2008 at Pakowhai Country Park, near Hastings in the North Island of New Zealand. This park is a planted park of specimen trees both native and exotic, established in the heart of orchard land, probably 50 K from any native bush.  My specimens were growing under (and presumably in a relationship with) a small totara tree (a N.Z. native podocarp conifer).  Here is a sample of the pictures of the juvenile fruiting bodies of that year. As they had already been knocked over, I took them home and “posed” them for the photos in front of a small Tasmanian Blackwood tree. I did not then realize how small and immature they were until the next year when I found a mature specimen.

Noddy Flycap (Amanita sp.2) Pakowhai Country Park 
Photo owned by Arthur Bennett

This is a high traffic dog-walking area and all the fruiting bodies of that season were destroyed by passers-by before they could mature. In May of 2009 the fungus reoccurred in exactly the same spot, but as it was a drought year, there was only one fruiting body.

Noddy Flycap (Amanita sp.2) Pakowhai Country Park
Photo owned by Arthur Bennett

I sent photos of the Noddy Flycap to fungal experts in Europe and North America and nobody has ever seen anything even vaguely resembling it.
Geoff Ridley postulated an exotic (European or American origin) but Rod Tuloss is now presuming an endemic New Zealand origin.

And now the plot thickens. New Zealand consists of two types of countryside. Firstly we have the native bush, mostly confined nowadays to the high country.  Secondly we have farm and forest land where virtually all native species were cleared over a century ago.  The native bush is covered with a network of tramping trails and New Zealanders as a nation are very keen on bush walks. All these thousands of trampers have cell-phones and digital cameras and many of them are keen amateur mycologists.  There have never been any sightings or photographs whatsoever of the Noddy Flycap in undisturbed native bush. In fact the sites where it has been found are strangely urban.
  1. Various urban parks in various cities.
  2. An island in Wellington harbour that was once completely cleared of native vegetation and used as a quarantine station for imported sheep breeds and which has only recently been revegetated with native tree species.
  3. A small reserve that originated with a native plant collection, many of them not native to the local area.
  4. A botanical garden in the heart of New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington.
  5. A planted park in orchard land near Hastings developed as a river control project.
  6. Various urban gardens.
  7. At Ruakura the the site of AgResearch's head office. Plant & Food Research's site in Hamilton is home to its blueberry nursery, its Bioengineering Group and its Food and Biological Chemistry laboratory and is where work is also carried out on biological control agents.
Peter Johnston in his article Causes and Consequences of Changes to New Zealand’s Fungal Biota ( states that “New Zealand’s geological and cultural history has resulted in New Zealand’s biota comprising several different components: ancient lineages derived from the supercontinent Gondwana; geologically more recent introductions following natural trans-oceanic dispersal, sometimes with subsequent evolution of local endemics; deliberate or accidental introduction of new organisms following human settlement.” He gives criteria for identifying whether a fungus is native or exotic: “Typically these decisions have been based on observations of the ecology of the fungus. Fungi restricted to exotic plants, for example those causing diseases of corn or Pinaceae, are assumed to be exotic. Similar criteria have been applied to saprobic fungi restricted to human habitats, such as mushrooms known only from pasture or only from woodchip mulches.”  However he goes on to point out that there are well documented examples of exotic ectomycorrhizal fungi developing associations with native trees: “The exotic ectomycorrhizal mushroom Amanita muscaria is widespread in New Zealand in association with a range of exotic trees, but has become naturalised in Nothofagus forests at several sites.”
Considering all the above clues in this mushroom mystery, it is my opinion that the Noddy Flycap is exotic, but not from Europe or North America because the fungal experts there would surely have recognized it. The peculiar, yet consistent, nature of the sites where it has been found also make me believe that it has had to date a very specific means of dispersal. All the sites that I have been able to track down to date seem to be places where a wide range of trees both native and exotic have been planted by man – public parks, botanical gardens, revegetation areas. Somebody in the country has been supplying these organizations with plants and before the days of bio-security they were sourced from various overseas suppliers. I can imagine the Noddy Flycap entering the country with an inoculated seedling or as spores in the soil and eventually fruiting there and seeding the soil and potting mixes of the nursery with its spores or maybe successfully inoculating a range of trees, both native and exotic. This theory would certainly explain its peculiar distribution in New Zealand.
Of course another dispersal agent could be the mycologists themselves. Note that Barbara Segedin found it in her very own garden as did Dave Bartram and my own second sighting was at Te Onepu, a few kilometres from where I live.It would be an extreme irony if a species of fungus had chosen the mycologist's boot as its principle dispersal mode. 
The exotic origin of the Noddy Flycap can however only be established for certain if somebody in the worldwide mycological community can identify its native habitat. Can anybody out there help?
You may reach me at:
Arthur Bennett

This amazing amanita is still extending its range. In April 2014 it has been recorded near Christchurch and only 2 days ago (26th april 2014) a neighbour just 10 K from me in Te Onepu Hawkes Bay found it growing under Dogwood and pinoaks in his country garden.

Since the publication of this article, Geof Ridley published his own article with more details on the findings than I had access to. I have updated my own list of sightings with help from the additional information to be found at:
A strange Amanita: Noddy’s flycap in New Zealand | Spores, moulds, and fungi

P.s. Rod Tuloss has subsequently written to me with the following information:

Your blog inspired me to re-edit and update the checklist that you mention in the post.  This can now be found at

I also wanted to convey to you and the readers of your blog post some other points:

First, the old Amanita Studies website will soon be dismantled.  This should have been done months ago, but the staff is VERY small and we haven't had the time to do the job...I, in particular, have not had the time...

The replacement website is

This site is many times the size of the old one and covers over 800 taxa in Amanita and Limacella.  About 75% of these taxa are treated rather thoroughly at present, and we are working on the rest every day.  Because of the active participation and frequent communication from folks in Australia and New Zealand, we have made a special effort to improve our coverage for Down Under. Australian usage of the site is second only to US usage.

Second, I wanted to say that we have explicit coverage of Noddy's Cap at this URL:

So far I have not received any material of this species that was sufficiently well-preserved to extract much microscopic information.  Getting the fruiting body dry and keeping it dry in shipment seems very difficult to do.  Possibly hermetically sealing it in plastic after super-thorough drying would be the way to go.


  1. thanks for sharing.

  2. I had commented earlier this week asking how you know which ones are poisonous, and how you decide which ones to use for dye, and which ones to eat! :-) psilocybe cubensis syringe

  3. I found one of these Amanita in Ashgrove Reserve in Christchurch yesterday. You can see the full details, including photos, at

    1. Thankyou Jon. A near neighbour of mine in Hawkes Bay has just found yet another site.