Skip to content

Fungi, mosses & lichens


At cooler times of the year, following rain (but not too much), the usually hidden world of fungi in the Wolli Creek Valley and Regional Park can be glimpsed. It is a beautiful, fascinating, and changing world, and once introduced to it, many people, whether photographers, artists, or naturalists, become ‘hooked’.

Whether growing in soil, on wood, on other fungi, and even inside insects, fungi play an essential role in the ecology of Australian bushland, and in fact more generally in our life on earth. Fungi play a vital productive, recycling/composting role, by breaking down plant material such as dead plants, fallen logs, branches and leaves, progressively releasing nutrients in the process.

fungus While fungi are not plants, they form essential partnerships with a wide range of Australian plants via what is called a mycorrhizal relationship. This benefits both the plant and the fungi. The fungi are able to get food from the plant, and the plant is able to maximise its uptake of water and nutrients via the fungi. Nearly all orchid species too rely on fungi. Many orchids are pollinated by fungal gnats, which are insects that live in and feed on fungi. Most orchid seeds too are very small, and so unable to grow by themselves. They need a fungal partner to provide them with the extra nutrients required for germination and growth. Fungi are also an important food source for many native mammal, invertebrate and even reptile species.

There are thousands of Australian species of fungi, with only a small fraction of these adequately documented. Those who professionally study fungi in Australia – mycologists – are few and far between. There are enthusiastic ‘citizen mycologists’ who are adding to the knowledge we have of fungi species and their distribution, but there is a lot still to be known about Australian fungi, including fungi that may be found in the Wolli Creek Valley’s bushland.

Fungi Foray
WCPS has been fortunate over the years to have had the benefit of the expertise of the Sydney Fungal Studies Group (SFSG) in locating and identifying some of the many species of fungi that have been found in the bushland areas of the valley, at different times. Unlike native plant species that you may reliably see in a certain area, flowering or fruiting at certain times of the year, the fungi we can more easily see – referred to as macrofungi, and which it is also important to note is the fruiting body – may not appear in the same location from year to year, or even at all for many years. The fruiting body releases spores, which is the means of reproduction for fungi.
Ghost fungus
Some rare species may just make a single appearance for a few, or several days, and then not be seen again for more than a decade or more. In locating and documenting species of fungi, it is often a case of being in the right place, just at the right time, with the right observer. This being the case, anything approaching a comprehensive list of fungi occurring in an area can only really be built up over a long period of time, for decades, and longer, with repeated visits. The fruiting body that we can see and which allows us to identify the species, can take a wide range of forms. These forms include mushrooms, brackets, jellies, cups, discs, molds, stinkhorns, puff balls and coral like structures.
The SFSG has been visiting the Wolli Creek Valley’s bushland to conduct twice-yearly field ‘fungal forays’ since 2013. While not a full list of the valley’s fungi, the information so far collected by members of the SFSG is a significant contribution to this aspect of the Valley’s biodiversity.

To get a sense of the range of fungi that have been found in the valley, see this list of species located during ‘fungal forays’ (PDF 73KB). Photos here also show some of the fungi found. Many of the fungi are quite small in size. This may not be apparent, as the photographs are up-close, macro shots, necessary for aiding identification. Checking some of the field guides that have been published to aid identification of fungi, as well as some of the references listed below can give you an idea of what size range may be involved.

The SFSG welcomes WCPS members to their field visits. By joining WCPS or the SFSG you can find out about and join in planned surveys. It should be noted that these forays are for study and documentation – and to appreciate the sheer beauty, and range of colours, shapes, textures and forms of fungi. They are not forages for edible fungi. Many Australian species (and those from other parts of the world) are toxic.

Links and other useful information and images

Sydney Fungal Studies Group

Fungi Map

Australian National Botanic Gardens

Atlas of Living Australia

iNaturalist Australia

David Noble’s blog features many stunning photographs of fungi, including some from the Wolli Valley

Also see his stunning Wolli Creek Regional Park Slide Show · David Noble which features many pictures of fungi

‘Foray report’ in the July 2022 WCPS Update newsletter

Fungi talk for Willoughby Council (2023)

WCPS member Voren O’Brien’s Flickr photo album of Fungi in the Wolli Valley:

NGH fungi_002


According to the CSIRO, there are around 3,800 lichen species across Australia, and 1,200 species of mosses. But we don’t know how many species of lichens or mosses we have in the Wolli Creek Valley and Regional Park, as they are a very understudied component of the Valley’s natural environment.  

Lichens and mosses, as well as some other organisms (liverworts, hornworts, algae and slime molds) are collectively called bryophytes. In turn, the bryophytes, along with fungi, are classified as cryptogams. What these various cryptogam organisms have in common is that they don’t produce flowers or seeds but instead reproduce by spores. Crypto is a latin word meaning ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ which is apt for organisms that are both tiny and ancient – and easily overlooked as a result. 

Moss on rock


Mosses are flowerless, spore-producing, non-vascular plants. They can be found commonly growing in damp places in natural bushland systems, as well as in suburban areas. Like lichens, they play an important ecological role. They contribute to soil formation, and soil and moisture retention, and to the establishment of other, vascular plants.
Moss on rock

A hand lens (or good eyesight) as well as often a microscope is necessary to identify different species of mosses. There are two growth forms – ‘tufting’ (upright) and ‘trailing’. Many have a ‘cushion-like’ growth, or they may be simple stemmed, with stems that look like many small green fingers coming up out of the soil.

There is a great diversity of mosses in Australia (around 1,200 species) and there is likely to be some diversity of species in the Wolli Creek Valley and Regional Park. However, similar to lichens, our knowledge of the possible diversity of moss species is very under-developed. We would welcome contributions in this area from citizen science enthusiasts and scientific researchers.

More information on mosses

Australian Mosses Online

Australian National Botanic Garden 

ABC Science

The Conversation article

WCPS member Voren O’Brien’s Flickr photo album of lichens and mosses of the Wolli Valley


Lichens are a special group, in that they represent a symbiosis – ie a mutualistic relationship – between two organisms. The two organisms are a fungus, and a blue-green algae, or cyanobacterium, which unlike fungi, is capable of photosynthesis. The two live in partnership, benefiting each other.

Lichens and mosses can be found in many different, mainly terrestrial environments. This includes suburban backyards. They can grow on natural surfaces such as rocks, soil, tree trunks or leaves, and on non-natural surfaces such as concrete or brick walls or paths, roof tiles, and even metal, glass, plastic, rubber or canvas.
Lichen on tree
Similar to fungi, there are many growth forms of lichen. The different growth forms, which are classed as fruticose, crustose or foliose, are, like fungi, an aid to their identification and scientific naming. Lichens perform an important ecological role in various ecosystems. For example, they are often the first organisms to colonise bare surfaces, and many species of invertebrates eat lichens. Lichens have also been used over time by humans for food, for medicines, and even for the dying of cloth.
Lichen on rock

In the Wolli Creek Valley, we can often see the (fruticose) lichen in the genus Usnea growing on older shrubs of Kunzea ambigua . On rocks we often see the (foliose) lichens Xanthoparmelia spp.

We’d love to have more information about the range of lichens we have in the Valley, so that we can better understand, and document this aspect of the Valley’s biodiversity. It’s an often overlooked area in field surveys. We would welcome contributions in this area from citizen science enthusiasts, and scientific researchers.

Lichen on rock
Xanthoparmelia sp. lichen on rock
More information on lichens