Morel Count, I’m at two

Salixland Morel 2

My second Morel of the year.  At this rate I expect to find five or six total this season.

By Brady Raymond

Things were looking good at the end of winter, sufficient snowpack, and some late winter rain but then a dry spell.  Over here, east of the Cascades the last couple of weeks have been warm and dry.  Dry enough ironically to put a damper on my mushrooming mood. Today, however, the rains did come and it looks like they will extend into next week. I got myself a bit of a good omen and stumbled across another Morel only a few feet away from where I had found my first Morel of the year.  I snapped off a few shots then decided to snoop around a bit and see if I could spot a few more.

As I circled around some brush I saw a yellow laser streak in front of me across the damp ground. My mushrooming focus now tuned into snake vision, I reassessed my naturing priorities and the hunt for the serpent was on.  The snake, small, only a youngster really, caught cover under the corner of a large concrete chunk.  I thought I had lost it but with a little gentle prodding and the snake emerged from its shelter.  I captured it and after a few seconds of squirming and discharging a foul-smelling musk, it decided I wasn’t a threat and calmed down.  I was deep in shade and as if on cue, a gust of wind blew on the canopy of Willow above, allowing the evening rays of the Sun to penetrate down to the snake in my hand.  Lighting went from bad to good in an instant, I took advantage of the situation and snapped the photo below.  Look for an article about my adventures snaking to follow this story soon.

Garter Snake 5

Newborn Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi.  Garter Snakes give “birth” to live young.

My second Morel of the year and an encounter with the beautiful Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi left me giddy and with a touch of the fuzzies.  Then I remembered spotting some mushrooms the day before, just up the trail on the exposed roots of a wind-toppled Willow tree. I had to bushwhack my way through standing dead to reach the specimens, which from across the creek looked to be Coprinellus micaceus, and upon closer inspection that is the name I gave them.

It was kind of a difficult shot, which had me lying prone on a mat of sticks and twigs and below that was a black soupy muck.  If I applied too much pressure to a knee or elbow seepage of this muck into my clothing was inevitable.  The image isn’t a wall hanger but it is good enough as evidence that this species occurs both on my property and on Willow.  I haven’t identified anything down to species but so far I’ve spotted Agaricus, Pholiota, Psathyrella, Galerina, Xylaria, Morchella, and fairy rings in my lawn, evidence left presumably by Marasmius.

Coprinellus micaceus SL

Coprinellus micaceus, or at least that’s what I’m calling it.  DNA studies suggest however-blah, blah, blah.

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Sometimes the Mushrooms Come to You

As late winter warms into spring certain changes come to Seattle.  The trees begin to bud, the grass starts to grow faster, cherry blossoms bring an explosion of beauty to the city.  If you are like me, you are checking with friends and monitoring social media to find out if anything has been sighted yet.

Maybe you see or hear about some Oysters mushrooms (species in the Pleurotus genus) growing in lower elevations.  They can be found on dead deciduous trees.  Around here that usually means alder trees – dead alders.  In Washington we have nearly exclusively Red Alder (Alnus rubra) while down in Oregon they have several other species of alder.  Look for the Pleurotus species on standing snags or downed logs in late winter and into spring and beyond in parks, particularly along waterways where many alders grow.

Yellowish tan fan-shaped mushrooms growing from a log

A  group of Oyster (Pleurotus) mushrooms growing on a log on trailside in a park in Seattle.

But the mushroom of spring is the Morel.  While those with a comprehensive historic, linguistic, and taxonomic understanding might think of anything in the Morchellaceae taxonomic family and even a few beyond as some type of morel, many people immediately think of those tasty brown roundish sponge-like mushrooms in the Morchella genus when you say morel.

Before the Morchella appear there is another closely related mushroom in the Morchellaceae family that comes up first; these are the Verpa species.  The Verpas are called “Early Morels”, because they come before the other morels (the Morchella).

We have a couple of verpa species around Seattle include Verpa conica, a small mostly smooth capped Verpa found in moist areas.  It only grows to a few inches tall. Some common names for it include the Thimble Morel or the Thimble Cap.

Verpas like all members of the Morchellaceae family are edible, but only after cooking well.

Verpa conica - Thimble Cap

A cross section of a Verpa conica – a Thimble Morel or Thimble Cap.

The other Verpa you can find in Washington is much taller than Thimble Morel and even taller than any Morchella we get in the Pacific Northwest.  This larger Verpa species is the Verpa bohemica.  Its excessively wrinkled cap can be deceiving, because without close examination it can look very similar to a Morel (Morchella), but the wrinkles are not the sponge-like of pits of a Morchella.

tall creamy white stipe (stem) with a small wrinkled dark conical hat on top.

Verpa bohemica – Wrinkled Thimble Cap or Wrinkled Thimble Morel.

The Verpa bohemica gets it name from Bohemia, a western region in the Czech Republic where the mushroom was first described.  The stipe (stem) of the V. bohemica can be very tall as to compared to the cap which sits on the end of the stipe.

There are a couple of others thing to note about all the Verpas.  The can have hollow stipes, because the pithy material inside of the tube of the stipe tends to disappear in age.  Whether hollow or not, one thing to notice is that stipe goes all the way to the top of the inside of the cap before it is attached to the cap. In contrast, Morchella species have stipes which are typically hollow.  Due to varied growing conditions some species are prone to have many layers in the base making the very bottom of the stipe nearly solid, but not filled with a cottony pith.

morels in a sissel basket

Morchella sp. with one with a layer filled base.

More importantly, unlike the various Verpa species, the Morchella species stipe joins smoothly into the stipe, most often blending into the cap at the cap base.  In a couple of species the stipe joins to the cap somewhere up into the stipe, these are called Half-free Morels (Morchella punctipes in western North America and Morchella semilibera in eastern North America).  Some specimens can be tricky, because the join from the cap to the stipe is way up in the cap, but it is not straight into the top of the cap.  In all morels there should be some widening as the cap flares and joins the cap even the “half free” morels.

A morel cut from top to bottom. One half showing the outside the other the inside.

Cut-away Morchella showing stipe connecting directly to stipe.

about a dozen young burn morels on burned ground with pine needles.

Young Burn Morels (Morchella exuberans?) showing nice round “ant tracks” at the base of the cap.

In the picture of the cut-away Morel (Morchella tomentosa), you can see the stipe smoothly blending with the body of the cap.  In some species there is more of channel (when looking from the outside), a nice round gutter running around the bottom of the cap.  Some refer to the nice rounded gutter as the ant track.

May you fill your basket with mushrooms and your soul with adventures.

-Paul Hill
Seattle WA

It’s Morel Season

1st Salixland Morel 2019

First Morel of the year, in my own backyard!

by Brady Raymond

I had already been out on one walk for the day, doing a little birding, trying to figure out a few plants and thinking about all the work that needs to get done on the trails for summer.  I came inside to get some water and like always my Jack Russell was there to greet me, wagging his nub of a tail in a playful puppy kind of way despite his twelve years of age.  I could tell he needed a walk so I decided to head out again.  Just a quick spin around the compound.  Unbeknownst to me that my first Morel of the year was only a few short minutes away from being found.

As I crossed the creek into “Salixland” my senses focused in on the surroundings.  Truth be told, I was thinking more about seeing some Warblers, maybe even a few new ones to add to my home bird list.  We’ve had Yellow-Rumped Warblers all over the place lately and I think there have been a few other species of birds among them but I never seem to have my binoculars on me when I really need them.  As my brain processed these thoughts I passed through the first stand of Willow trees and headed out through the Reed Canary Grass to a second stand of Willows a little further down the trail.

As I entered the woods my eyes adjusted to the lower light, I throttled down my pace a bit to optimal birding speed and continued on.  I glanced downward to watch my step and what would you know, right in front of me just ten feet away stood my first Morel of the 2019 season and my first Morel at our new home.  Surprised, I said aloud “There’s a Morel” then a giddy grin stretched across my face and a fuzzy feeling engulfed the whole of my body.

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Hunting Mushrooms In The Desert

Umtanum Verpa 1

Verpa bohemica, one of the so called False Morels, found in a riparian zone under Cottonwoods in the desert of Eastern (central) Washington.

by Brady Raymond

It’s that time of year to grab your packs and baskets and head out to the woods.  If you know where to look or tend to be lucky you will surely stumble across some Verpa bohemica.  On the east side of the Cascades, between 1300ft-1900ft is where I found the specimens photographed both above and at the end of the article.  I found them at two separate locations at either end of the aforementioned altitudes.  A few stood proud and tall yet some were inconspicuously protruding from beneath the twigs, leaves, and other duff which make up the forest floor.  Now this would all be great if they were Morels but alas they were False Morels, and although some people eat them, I do not count myself among them.  If you decide to eat them use a reputable field guide for your region and make sure you know how to properly prepare them.  Some folks don’t react well after ingesting Verpa bohemica, but I guess that could be said with all mushrooms.  Do your research before eating any mushroom.  When in doubt, throw it out

Over here on the East side, your search for mushrooms is most likely to succeed if you stick to riparian zones.  That is to say, areas near streams and rivers.  Once you start to see Willow and Cottonwood trees you know you are getting close to a riparian area. Learn to identify Cottonwoods as they seem to be friendly with Verpa bohemica and Morels alike.  Verpa bohemica often time precede Morels by a couple weeks and will many times overlap with them.  Although you may be fooled by the look alike at first, don’t be too upset when you realize your folly.  You’re on the right track, just a little early.

Home Creek

A small creek running through my property.  These Cottonwoods are still rather young but yielded Verpa.  Let’s hope the Morels will follow soon.

Another sign you are in a riparian zone is the presence of Urtica diocia also known as Stinging Nettles.  Nettles can be annoying to downright painful depending on your body chemistry but they are a plentiful, delicious and a nutritious foraged edible.  Nettles are best harvested when still young and tender.  I like to wear rubber dipped work gloves and use scissors to harvest.  I collect them in a paper grocery bag as long as it’s not to wet out.  I like the paper bags because they fold up nicely in my pack and aren’t much in the way before I use them.

When dried or cooked the stinging hairs of the Nettle are rendered impotent.  They can be used for tea, or to make pesto, as a topping for pizza, or whatever else you can think of.  It’s a good substitute for spinach (cooked), yet has a vibe and flavor that I find unique, it tastes like springtime.  There are plenty of resources online for those that are curious about recipes and their nutritional value.

Home Nettles

I don’t have to go far for Nettles, these are right out my back door.  Chances are high that you the reader doesn’t have to go far either, as they grow throughout the state where the soil stays a bit wetter, usually in riparian zones.

Robins Nest

I had to work fast to get this snapshot, Mamma Robin wasn’t too happy.  Riparian zones are the lifeblood of the dry habitats on the Eastern slopes of the Cascades.  Providing water, food and much-needed shade for a whole host of animals, especially birds.

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Holiday Mushrooms

By Paul Hill

At this time of year as I celebrate some of my favorite holidays my thoughts turn to mushrooms.  Yes, some of us think about mushrooms all year long.

One of  the most famous mushrooms in the world is a big mushroom with a red or orange cap and white warts.  I hardly need to describe any more features; even if they don’t know its name, most people recognize it. Continue reading

Mushrooming Motivation

by Paul Hill

In early November when you think season for the Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus) may be winding down, what other mushrooms are there to find?  As we head closer to winter, the edibles become less common, but once you start looking you will see there are still many species out there.   Maybe you won’t find gourmet edibles all year round, but that might not stop you from enjoying the hobby of mushrooming.

There are many variations of mushroomers out there.  Myself, I love to take photographs of mushrooms.  When after the late summer and fall Boletes have faded, I am content with finding the curious, weird, and unusual mushrooms, including finding mushrooms in urban and suburban areas.

Another group of mushroom hunters sometimes found in parks of Washington and Oregon are the folks who found their way into mushrooming because they want to find the “magic mushrooms”.  Those are the little brown mushrooms which contain psilocybin, an hallucinogenic or psychedelic compound.  Mushrooming has a challenge in store for those looking for these mushrooms; making sure you have the right mushrooms requires learning technical features of mushrooms, because there are many little brown mushrooms growing in the Pacific Northwest in late fall and early winter – many more than are hallucinogenic.  Some of them are best identified by characteristics like having a peelable

LBMs in a Seattle Park

A least four Little Brown Mushroom species are in this photo.  There are so many LBMs to find!

 

pellicle and having a blue bruising reaction.  If you don’t know what a pellicle is, you might not  be sure you had a Liberty Cap (Psilocybe semilanceata).  Knowing what is meant by various descriptive features is important, because there are a dizzying array of other little brown (and gray) mushrooms that grow in the same areas.

Identifying a Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus) is easier and certainly safer.  Those short gills, often called “ridges”, “veins” etc., because they are so short compared to most gills; along with the color; distinct silhouette; and a certain string cheese-like texture to the flesh is about all you need to separate the Chanterelles from anything else.  The one thing you learn about the popular edibles is that the ease of identifying helps to make them popular.

Golden Chanterelle

A Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus) in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

Sometimes the non-edibles catch my eye.  Here are some photos taken in November 2018. Here are some other picturesque mushrooms you might find in late fall in our area.

Witches Cap (Hygrocybe singeri) in Seattle

A colorful Witches Cap (Hygrocybe singeri) in Seattle in November

A Black Earth Tongue (Geoglossum umbratile)

A Black Earth Tongue (Geoglossum umbratile) in moss in Seattle.

Candlestick Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Candlestick Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) Curious white spores on black stems looking like a group of sticks. You might not think they are even a fungus.

reddish cap, widely-spaced gills, with a thick layer of clear slime on the long stipe (stem).

A Spike-cap (Gomphidius species) with its stipe covered in slime. Can you believe this is not the species Gomphidius glutinosus? There are even slimier species.

Scenes From Ben Woo, 2018

Mushrooms BW 2018

by Brady Raymond

The Ben Woo Foray for 2018 was a nice change of pace from last years foray which featured wet snow and cold temperatures.  This year was warm and sunny, and although a little dry, it was a blast for all who attended.  The mushrooming wasn’t quite what it was like in the first iteration of the foray but specimens were found, identified and generally admired by all who attended.  A variety of mushrooms were found this year, by a count of species, just over two-hundred.  Not bad considering the dry weather.

There were a lot of new faces for the third installment of the Ben Woo Foray as well as some of the more recognizable figures of the club.  Both new and old members came together, many of them volunteering their time to help make this outing the best it could be.

Gomphus sp.

Maple

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Fall has Fallen: Chanterelles are Popping!

Wow!  What a difference a few weeks make.

A month ago the talk was about anticipating the coming autumn mushroom season and the hope it wouldn’t be as bad as last year.   On September 8th, Seattle’s own celebrity weather professor, Dr. Cliff Mass, said “Take out your sweaters and rain gear”.  I don’t know about you, but I think I missed that transition until a few days later when we had a few days of overcast and even a little drizzle. I didn’t get my hopes up, because after some overcast and even a bit of drizzle we got just as many sunny days. Soon the overcast and occasional drizzle was more typical than not and we seemed to be settling into a nice damp Pacific Northwest autumn. Continue reading

A Taste Of Fall To Come

 

Summer Chanty 2018 coast

by Brady Raymond

As most of Washington State sweltered this last week, coastal Washington was cool and misty. The family and I got away for a long weekend out in Moclips, the cooler weather was a nice respite from the oven baking further inland and what would you know there were Chanterelles growing too.  The golden beauties pictured above were found about 100ft. above sea level just over a sandy bluff from the ocean.

Our trip was more focused on all things beach, so, unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to scour the woods too well but, I imagine that there are more to be found for someone with the time.  There were a number of specimens nearby that were a bit too small for the plate but looked as though they would surpass what I had collected in about a week or so.

I also came across a few Russula, an unknown gilled mushroom and a few Galerina.  Things were looking pretty good and if you need a taste of the fall to come, head to the coast and try your luck.

20180731_182742_001

Fresh Chanterelle pizza in July?  Yes, it’s true you can find mushrooms in the summer here in WA.  You just need to find areas where the weather is more reminiscent of the spring or fall.