Scientists are confused as to how poison fire coral, one of the deadliest fungi in the world, made its way to a forest in Far North Queensland. The fungus has its origins in Japan and Korea; now it’s in Redlynch Valley in Cairns.
It was discovered by fungi enthusiast Ray Palmer, who spoke to ABC about the moment he came upon it. “I thought ‘no, this can’t be it because this is in Australia’—it’s not known to be in Australia,” he recalled. Palmer took a sample to James Cook University and found that it was, in fact, poison fire coral.
While the development could be completely natural, Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) mycologist Dr Matt Barrett said scientists only know so much about the fungus and its migrations.
“We don’t really have a very good understanding at all of the fungi in northern Australia,” he said. “The distribution is all the way through South-East Asia as far as we can track it, but the records are very scattered.”
Simply touching the poison fire coral can have serious complications, as it contains at least eight poisonous compounds that can be absorbed through the skin. Eating it, however, can cause death. In Japan and Korea, people have been killed by the fungus after mistaking it for other, nontoxic fungi. Dr. Barrett described what happens when a person ingests the carrot-like species:
“Initially stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and numbness, followed over hours or days by delamination of skin on face, hands and feet, and shrinking of the brain.”
Death can occur if the symptoms go untreated.
So if you’re in Cairns and you see some deformed carrots sticking out of the ground, steer clear.