This picture was taken in the year 2006, when the flaming glory vines climbed all the way and bloomed on our boundary wall. The beautiful flaming glory bower is a common and popular vine in the NCR region, but is an exotic from Africa.
Rewind to 2012, the vines are on the decline, a couple of them are just dead woody branches.
Slowly, a bracket fungus appeared on the dead branch. As it kept growing and looked interesting, I looked up the Internet to see what these growths on dead tree branches meant. The results opened up a whole new world of fungi, where researchers are unearthing new uses for them. Here is what I learnt.
The growth is called bracket fungus. These fungi are usually found on the sides of trees and on fallen logs. Fungi were once classed as plants, but they do not photosynthesise, but instead obtain nourishment from preformed organic materials, in much the same way that animals do. Many are saprotrophic - feeding off decomposing organic remains, such as dead wood. The saprotrophic polypore Microporus xanthopus is one of the commonest fungi in tropical areas from Australia through to Africa, but is not found in the American tropics. It can be found on rotting wood of numerous tree species in the wet, forested areas. As a whole the genus Microporus is found in Australia, many parts of Asia and tropical to south-temperate Africa.
The value of dead wood
Dead wood (coarse woody debris or CWD) is extremely important to the health of the forest, and this is being increasingly recognised by conservationists. Not only is it an aspect of the process of nutrient cycling, providing a steady, slow-release source of nitrogen, but it is also thought to play a significant role in carbon storage. Fallen logs can also increase soil stability within a woodland. The role of fungi in breaking down dead wood is especially crucial. Lignin is the substance that makes wood stiff, and it is so tough that animals cannot digest it. However, certain fungi are able to biodegrade this substance using particular enzymes, thus allowing the vast amounts of dead wood in a natural forest to be broken down.
Standing dead trees (snags) and fallen debris provide a fantastic array of 'microhabitats'. There is a breathtaking range of saproxylic (deadwood-dependent) organisms including fungi, lichens, invertebrates, mosses and birds, many of them having very specific
requirements, and some specialising exclusively on one particular microhabitat. A remarkable 40% of woodland wildlife is dependent on this aspect of the forest ecosystem.
Here is a link to a website which gives more info