On Sunday 4 October I went on a fungi foray organised by the Association de botanique et de mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine in the Forêt de Preuilly. It was very well attended, as these outings tend to be. Lots of locals like to gather wild mushrooms in the autumn and if you live in the area you will recognise a number of people in the photo above. The outing was an opportunity to learn more and be safe and confident in your choice of mushrooms for the table as well as showing people just how diverse the fungi in the forest is. One man I know admitted to me that he had gathered mushrooms in the wild for many years, but had never been on an outing like this. He had, however, managed to put himself in hospital with hallucinations once after mis-identifying a mushroom that he ate.
Below, a mushroom which is very commonly associated with poisoning episodes. Jean Bouton has told me the story more than once of the chef in a restaurant near Chinon who served this mushroom up to diners and had everyone in hospital. Its name is the Livid Pinkgill Entoloma sinuatum (Fr. Entolome livide). It closely resembles two highly sought after edible species, the Saint George's Mushroom Calocybe gambosa (Fr. Tricholome de la Saint-Georges) and the Miller Clitopilus prunulus (Fr. le Meunier). They often grow together and all have a characteristic odour of flour. The Livid Pinkgill is rarely deadly but induces severe gastro-intestinal symptoms followed sometimes by delirium and depression.
Another related mushroom that often grows with the trio above is this Soap-scented Toadstool Tricholoma saponaceum (Fr. Tricholome à odeur de savon) below. It is also probably mildly toxic.
There was a lot of focus on the fact I am Australian, probably because the Wallabies had beaten the English in the Rugby World Cup the day before the outing. I'm not sure the various French people who mentioned it to me were so much pleased the Australians had won but more that the English had lost. (Simon tells me the French referee made some controversial decisions during the match, but unsurprisingly no one on the outing mentioned this.)
Jean-Pierre made sure to let me know that one of his sons is currently in Australia. His son is a geologist in the oil business and apparently would move out there in a shot, except that he doesn't want to uproot his wife and children.
Finally, Jean, Paul and Jean-Pierre all made sure I knew that the stinky red fungus below was an Australian invader. It is called Devils Fingers Clathrus archeri (Fr. Anthurus d'Archer) and is considered toxic enough by these three experts to be worth avoiding handling directly. They all poked it with a stick rather than touch it. According to Paul it arrived in France at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century when wool imported from Australia to the Vosges region of France contained the spores of the fungus.
In the photo below Jean is testing a wax cap Hygrophorus sp with ammonia while Jean-Pierre looks on. They were waiting to see if a change of colour on the stem was produced, which would be indicative of which species it was. Jean commented that nowadays young professional mycologists would never attempt to identify a notoriously difficult group like Hygrophorus in the field. They'd take a specimen to the lab and test it at a molecular level.
Jean is relating the story (below), in quite graphic detail, of how a mushroom of the species he is holding caused him to have a most unpleasant night. It involved passing out and frequent trips to the toilet. The mushroom, Agaricus impudiens (Fr. Agaric variable), is marked in all the books as edible.
Finally, something we can all happily and comfortably pick and eat (so long as they are carefully kept from contact with toxic species). Despite the fact that these mushrooms are called Trompettes de la mort ('trumpets of the dead') in French these little blackish tubes are delicious, safe and widely sought after. They are called Horns of Plenty in English and their scientific name is Craterellus cornucopioides.
To read about previous fungi forays in the Forêt de Preuilly, see my 2013 post and 2012 post. For more photos of the outing on 4 October see my friend and fellow member of the Association de botanique et de mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine André Jousset's website Picturon. You will catch the occasional glimpse of me in some of the photos (hint: I'm wearing an orange gilet).