Monday 29 October 2012

So all the cracks had gathered to the fray

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.

A typical basket of fungi collected on the day -- lots of ceps of several species and a large Clouded Funnel (where Jean-Pierre is pointing).

It's what going on my first serious mycological outing in France on Saturday reminded me of. There was a sense of uncommon skills gathered together, eager to play nature at its own game. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of them heading out into the forest, 60-odd people with trugs, divided into 3 groups. Fortunately, Alex Wild, in an act of total coincidence, posted a photo yesterday on his blog of a recent myrmecological outing that will give you some idea.

 Jean-Pierre examines an Edible Cep Boletus edulis (Cèpe de Bordeaux in French) with a Bay Bolete B. badius (Bolet bai in French) tucked in behind waiting for his scrutiny. Both are prized edible varieties.

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).

Jean-Pierre talks to a little group about a Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis (Clitocybe nébuleux in French). He says that technically they are edible, but they have such an after-aroma of cat's piss that you probably wouldn't want to.

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.

Rosy Bonnet Mycena rosea (Mycene rose in French). I gather from Jean-Pierre that this is one of the magic mushrooms. Unfortunately, as he pointed out, they also cause serious and irreversible physiological and psychological changes if consumed. They are a lovely pearl pink colour and apparently bioluminescent.

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).

For me, this was perhaps the most interesting fungi found (by Tim). It is Green Elf Cup Chlorociboria sp. Its presence can be detected even when the fruiting bodies aren't visible, as the mycelia stain the wood they are attacking blue.

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.

An atypical looking Beefsteak Fistulina hepatica (Langue de boeuf in French). They are not normally lobed like this apparently.
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.

A small selection of what was collected and put out for discussion and identification.

(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...


Ron Ron said...

The Staff told me to let you know that the Unrealliver thing can be lobed like that... but it doesn't normally grow upwards!
And who was the guy with the Amish beard?

Susan said...

RonRon: tell the Staff that the guy with the Amish beard is Jean Bouton, octegenarian botanist and mycologist extra-ordinaire.

Amanda said...

Susan, is it better to cut a mushroom with a knife (so you don't cover other mushrooms already in your basket with dirt), or as in the photo, pull them off the ground with dirt on. Would there be a difference in doing so?

Susan said...

Nadege: Best practice is to dig them out roots and all with your knife. That way, if there is any doubt about the identity you have the entire thing. Sometimes having the bottom of the stem is important for making a determination of ID. Mushrooms that are not cut also keep better.

GaynorB said...

That's a pretty good selection. Is the fungi foray held atthe same time every year?

A group of 60 is impressive.

Aussie in France said...

Hi, I've been told that if you know what the mushroom is, it's better to cut it close to the ground so that it will grow again. What does Susan's expert say?

Susan said...

Fraussie: I'll ask him, but my understanding is that the mycelia may send up more fruiting bodies beside the one you've cut, but they would anyway. The only advantage of cutting would be that you were not risking disturbing these burgeoning fruiting bodies still underground. Based on how the commercial gourmet mushroom caves pick, I would say that bringing the roots up too, if you can do it gently without disturbing the surrounds too much, is better. If you want to harvest the mushroom from the same spot next year -- well, that depends on where its spores fall and what the mycelia are following to feed on I would have thought, and nothing to do with whether you cut or dig carefully.

Susan said...

Gaynor: The club has a fungi foray every weekend in the late autumn, going to the forests of Loches, Preuilly, Chinon and several others.

Susan said...

Fraussie: I just looked this up on a forager's website and basically the jury is out. The pros of cutting are that you don't disturb as yet unemerged fruiting bodies, but the con is that you create a wound which can allow bacteria in to kill or weaken the whole organism. The point about unemerged fruiting bodies is not relevant to all species, so as usual with these sorts of questions the real answer is 'it depends'. You have to know your species' lifecycle intimately. On balance, I would recommend gently digging out, because of the risk of bacteria if you cut. I will ask on Sunday when I see the group again though, and see what the opinion is.

Aussie in France said...

Thanks, Susan, I'll be interested to hear what they have to say. We always dig out completely when there is a risk of confusion but with ceps we cut and cover them.

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