The enchanted Boranup Forest must be one of the most magical sections the 124km Cape to Cape Track. And as well as the soaring karri trees overhead, there is a special ecosystem of flowers and fungi in the understorey for hikers to enjoy.

Stroll beneath salmon pink karris and your eye is drawn upwards to the rustling wind in the canopy. It’s easy to miss the mushrooms and wildflowers growing in the damp earth below. But look a little closer beneath the fallen logs and leaf litter on each side of the path and you’ll discover a colourful and curious world of fungi, orchids and native wildflowers.

While some people see fungi as mostly brown, orange and yellow little dots hiding under leaves, there’s a diverse range of weird and wonderful species in our region.

Jane Scott, official ambassador of Nature Conservation Margaret River and author of The Magical World of Fungi, the Cape to Cape Track Guidebook and Walking Around in Circles says the shapes and colours can be quite fantastic.

“Spectacular purples, deep reds to pale orange, yellow, pink and blue,” she says.

“Some have fabulous names too – the curry punk with its vivid scent, the ghoul fungus that feeds on rotting animal remains and the bioluminescent ghost fungus that glows in the dark.”

Remember to balance your curiosity, all plants and fungi are protected in our National Parks – it is illegal to pick or collect them, and never eat fungi without getting a positive identification from an expert.

Fungi comes in a diverse range of wonderful colours. Photo: Holly Winkle

Curry punks, ghosts and ghouls

There are dozens of types of fungi in Boranup Forest, and you’ll find them on the ground amongst the leaf litter or growing plate-like on the trunks of trees – some even grow parasitically on roots, out of sight. A good tip is to carry a hand lens for looking at the underside of fungi without disturbing them – some have gills, some have pores.

“When out walking in our forests and enjoying the flora, think about the interconnectedness of the forest environment,” says Jane. “All species of plants, animals, fungi etc all related to one another and dependent on one another. Disturbance of any one element could disturb everything.”

Grab a copy of Jane’s Walking Around in Circles book at the Margaret River Visitor Centre and you’ll find pages of fungi illustrations accompanying the Cape Freycinet walk, an 8km stroll in Boranup Forest. Always stick to the paths to avoid compacting the soil or causing damage, and to support growing vegetation and resting wildlife.

“We didn’t realise until after the Boranup fire that there’s a whole lot of fungi dependent on fire,” says Jane. “Little orange and purple fungi came up in the days after the fire, and weeks later we saw quite a few stonemaker fungi.”

Stonemaker looks like a normal fungus on the ground but it has a huge, heavy appendage underneath the soil.

Boranup Forest

Majestic karri trees towering in Boranup Forest. Photo: Ryan Murphy

Great recyclers

“Mushrooms are amazing!” says Dr Erika Jacobson of Edgewalkers, a guided walk specialist.

“Fungi are cleaning up oil spills, they can tolerate more radiation than humans, and there’s so much still unknown.”

There is plenty more going on in nature that we can’t see.

“It’s looking like fungi will help us solve some crucial environmental issues in terms of toxic waste. They consume it. It’s a particular type of fungi that can break through it, and research is ongoing.”

The remarkable thing about mushrooms is that we see the fruiting bodies above ground, but below ground there could be kilometres of hyphae – threadlike equivalent of roots that harness the water and nutrients in the soil and deliver them up into the trees. Meanwhile the trees photosynthesise and provide the mushroom with energy. It’s a symbiotic relationship; they absolutely need each other.

What you see above ground might not be the full story. Photo: Holly Winkle

Delicate blossoms

You think Boranup Forest can’t possibly get more breathtaking, then winter brings a tangle of purple hardenbergia, tree hovea and clematis, a white star-shaped climber. Beneath it, tiny orchids, so beautifully camouflaged that only a trained eye can spot them.

“The first bunny orchids come out at Easter, and the cockies tongue marks the start of wildflower season,” says Dr Erika Jacobson. “There’s an amazing array of wildflowers across a long season, with full colour and abundance September to November.”

Jane Scott is tipping a great wildflower season this year.

“Look for the climbers – native wisteria, coral vines, white clematis – all working hard to flower and come back. Some of the wattles, pea flowers, eggs and bacon and orchids are set for a beautiful season, too.”

Karri, jarrah and marri trees have little buds under their bark designed to shoot after fire, and you can see that epicormic growth as you explore Boranup, and in Mammoth Cave’s Marri Walk.

“Sedges and zamia palms came up just days after the fire, balga trees started shooting at the tip,” says Jane.

Purple hardenbergia. Photo: Holly Winkle

Delve deeper

Wet autumn and winter are the best times to find fungi in Boranup Forest, but if you find a path you enjoy – see how it differs through different seasons. Grab Jane Scott’s books to guide your Boranup wanderings. Find That Flower is brilliant too. Arranged by colour, it makes identifying blooms a breeze.

Erika brings guests to Boranup on creativity retreats, and says people love being immersed in wilderness, yet still so close to ‘civilisation’.

“Five minutes in a forest can physically alter the chemicals in our bodies. Our parasympathetic system allows us to relax, cortisol levels go down.”

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