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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading