Fun guide to fungi

Liv Sisson has immortalised her burgeoning passion for fungi in print, thanks to the recent release of her book Fungi of Aotearoa. Joshua Brosnahan sat down with Liv to speak about all things ‘shrooms, being a ‘curious guide’ and her debut publication.

Born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and along the Potomac River in Virginia, USA, Liv Sisson first came to Aotearoa to study at Otago, with the intention of staying for one semester. After a serendipitous order of events, Liv has called Aotearoa home for close to five years now. It’s safe to say she has been busy. Her new book, producing written food content for national media, and leading foraging walks throughout Ōtautahi, have kept her moving.

Liv has ‘always loved tiny things’. After documenting her finds online – things such as lichens, pebbles, beetles, mushrooms – the seed was planted for what would become her first book, a Kiwi-centric exploration of fungi. Something fun, yet informative.

The idea was cemented thanks to a bevy of creative friends who, Liv says, ‘instilled her with confidence to chase the dream’. The result is a beautiful, yet practical, offering for fungus enthusiasts, packed with tips on identifying more than 130 varieties of fungi, how to cook some of the edible offerings, and the pivotal role some of these organisms have in the advancement of environmental science and medical research.

“Lichen is estimated to cover 7% of the earth’s surface. Lichen is fungi and algae living together in symbiosis.
“Fungi are everywhere. They are in you, on you, floating by on the breeze, and wriggling away in the soil beneath your feet.

“To learn about fungi is to learn about yourself. And looking for fungi is one way to reconnect with the infinite wonder of our world,” Liv explains.

The stunning full-colour photographs were shot by award-winning macro photographer Paula Vigus, including the striking blue mushrooms featured on the cover- werewere kōkako.

Paula was introduced to Liv through a family friend (her partner’s aunt), and this chance meeting led the duo to creating a book together. Liv describes this connection as a ‘real two-degrees-of-separation type of meeting’ that would only happen here in New Zealand.

“The first werewere kōkako I ever spotted is a core memory. I have seen it several times since, but the novelty of that first sighting is unmatched,” says Liv. “The blue colour is otherworldly. It’s electric. It’s magical enough to make you question the rational world. I think a few people mentioned that they thought we were using artistic licence on the cover shot, but no. She’s a real beauty in the real world.”

Liv is already considering a follow-up publication to Fungi In Aotearoa.

“I’m obsessed with the idea that we see what we’re prepared to see, from the hilarious, to the horrible. For example, a few years ago I was out foraging, and I found a potato on the side of the road. A potato! Since then, I have continued to find singular potatoes in silly places – the red zone, Cathedral Square, outside a local chemist. I’ve been documenting these on my social media. Now random people from around the world send me photos of their road potatoes”

She adds, “I want to write a coffee table book ‘Food In Places It Shouldn’t Be’ with personal reckons or short stories about how each item landed where it did.” Liv also confesses she does have ‘more serious book ideas, but they aren’t as fun.’ Liv is a self-confessed ‘curious guide’ who wrote this book for fungi enthusiasts, keen foragers, backcountry explorers, and ‘armchair adventurers’.

“Fungi can really add sparkle to even the most ordinary day, or walk. This book is your complete introduction to this fun, freaky, fantastic world. Like the road potatoes, I can almost guarantee that you’re about to be seeing fungi everywhere,” she laughs.


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