All the Australian readers will instantly recognise this phrase, but for those of you without the benefit of having studied Australian literature at school, this is a line from the most famous poem written by the most famous Australian poet.
The outing was organised by the Association de Botanique et Mycologie de Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, of which I am a member and regularly attend botanical outings. I'm not really a fungi person, but it's always worth going on an outing where there are experts to talk to (this applies to any topic I can think of).
Normally, our spring and summer botanical outings are around 20 people. I think everyone was quite surprised to see 60 turn up on Saturday for the champignons. The age range was from primary school to octagenarian too, which was very encouraging. Everyone took it seriously and were keen to know all about all the specimens we jointly collected. My guess is that mushroom foraging is seen as a very important part of French heritage, and its skills are valued as something that need to be passed on.
I stuck with Jean-Pierre, in the hopes of learning enough to identify a few species reliably. It was really interesting, but the weather turned much colder on Saturday, and my feet got fairly chilly. Mushroom hunting is mooching through the forest, rummaging in the leaf litter -- we got barely 20m in an hour, which gives you an idea of just how much fungi there is in this old royal hunting forest. Fortunately we were protected in the heart of the Foret de Loches from the 30 km winds with 50 km gusts from the icy north-east (that's Siberia or somewhere).
Jean-Pierre pointed out that what we think of as mushrooms or toadstools are really just the fruiting bodies. They bear the same relationship to the fungus as a whole as apples do to an apple tree.The 'mushroom tree' is its mycelia, which live in the soil in synergistic relationships with the plants around them. The plants make chlorophyll with their leaves and sunlight above ground, but below ground they absorb minerals and other nutrients courtesy of the fungal mycelia. These far-reaching fungal networks give plants acess to much greater resources and territory than would otherwise be the case.
UPDATE: Apparently it can have lobes, but doesn't normally grow upwards like this one did. See comment from RonRon below.
The mycelia attach themselves to buried wood, sometimes going very deep underground. A succession of fungi will attack fallen branches, causing them to rot and recycling their material into nutrients for the next generation of plants and fungi. The brown rot type fungi start the process, attacking the cellulose in the wood. After they have done their job, the white rot moves in, consuming the lignum. This is the reason the forest floor is not littered with dead wood.
(Tim and Pauline -- feel free to correct me on any of this, as you were there and heard what Jean-Pierre was saying.)
Part Two of the Fungi Foray in the Foret de Loches follows...