Tutae kehua – a fungal winter wonder
A tutae kehua in ‘full bloom’.
At this time of year a remarkable fungus endemic to New Zealand can be seen in gardens and the bush. The Maori names for the basket fungus (Ileodictyon cibarium) are many, and three of them feature the word tutae, mean dung or droppings. My favourite one is tutae kehua – ghost dung. (The others are tutae whetu – star dung, and tutae whatitiri – lightning dung.) In its immature form the fungus looks like a round, pale brown, somewhat flattened puffball. (This is apparently edible, but not delicious.)
When the fungus is ‘ripe’ the the lattice-work ‘basket’ springs suddenly out of the puffball. The inside of the basket is brown and slimy – and smelly if one gets too close. This is to attract the insects that spread the spores of the fungus. I always enjoy seeing this unusual plant make its reappearance every year, and marvel at nature’s architecture.