The Palani hills are arguably among the most biodiverse regions in southern India. Dozens of different tree species vie for sunlight and nutrients, and on the forest floor the smaller shrubs and herbs jostle with one another, sometimes desperately, for access to the ingredients of life. In the midst of all of this life there is death too. Stumps and trunks of trees that once stood dot the forest at regular intervals in various stages of decay. The moisture from the wet ground speeds up the decomposition and brings out of dormancy one of the greatest nutrient recyclers of the living world, Fungi.
Fungi are found at almost all elevations and in most of the different forest types in the Palani Hills. They are less abundant in drier scrublands found at lower elevations, but venture higher up--where the slopes are cooler leading to damper conditions on the forest floor--and a plethora of fungal varieties greets the eye for most part of the year.
There is a large variation in the colour, shape and texture found in the fruiting bodies of fungi, illustrated above by species of the bracket fungi family that grow without a support of their own and proliferate along fallen trees or stumps in horizontal layers, often clustered together.
The more traditional type of mushrooms are also found growing on a wide variety of substrates such as the remains of native trees and often even on exotic substrates such as pine and eucalyptus leaves.
There are some fungi that prefer areas near rocks and others that prefer denser cooler jungles . Some varieties seem to like dead substrates and there are others that will feed on still living trees and roots.
Some varieties such as the Reishi mushroom and several others are reported to have medicinal properties, but are not so common.
There are also several kinds of mushrooms that have a somewhat uncommon appearance such as the puffball and the Carmarthenshire varieties that are seen largely in the upper elevations. Once in a while you stumble upon some truly outlandish looking mushrooms and these make for a very exciting and educational survey experience.
Dorai and I started off this survey with a primary focus on mammals but it has become apparent that there is a ridiculously complex ecosystem of other organisms like insects, birds, fungi and other microbes that interact together in ways that we are beginning to observe and trying to understand.
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.