Out And About

 

Leccinum?

Leccinum insigne.

 

by Brady Raymond

Right in front of me, shrouded in green embrace was the fungus.  The cap was large, maybe 7 inches across and orange.  It was awash in the dappled summer sunlight, warm and content but in poor health, riddled with bug holes.  It was clear as I knelt down what I was dealing with, Leccinum.  The scab-like netting along the stipe instantly reminded me of Leccinum scabrum a Bolete of sorts and a mushroom that I have seen many times in Seattle, around some Birch trees in backyards and other green areas while out and about.

It was the only mushroom of the day, that we saw anyway and I’m calling is Leccinum insigne.  And it wasn’t until we were packing up to head back to the truck that I had noticed it, just off the bank of the rocky creek we were hiking along.  We were in desert country, hot and dry even crisp but things were a bit cooler down in the shallow canyon that the creek ran through.  As far as I could tell this mushroom was alone, in the arid landscape.  A landscape not overly suitable for the robust fruiting bodies of mushrooms, except close to the lifeblood of the bush, water.

What the desert lacks in large fruiting fungi it makes up for in bugs.  There was a breathtaking bounty of beautiful butterflies along the creek on this hike.  Many of the delicate creatures landing together in large groups on the muddy ground that made up the saturated banks of the creek.  From what I have read, it is thought that butterflies, particularly males, seek out the salts and possibly other minerals which may aid in reproduction.  Whatever their reasoning, it was an opportunity for me to snap a few photos.

UF Butterfly 1

Limenitis lorquini

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One More Attempt

 

Mushroom table

Mushroom table.

 

by Brady Raymond

The weather has been cool the last week and subsequently, my mind still thinks about mushrooms.  Around the house, I’ve noticed a couple things fruiting, some Coprinellus in the garden woodchips and some Agaricus in the duff off the side of the road.  These are farmland mushrooms though, domesticated in a sense, I wanted things more wild, mycorrhizal and Ascomycete in nature.  I still want Morels.

Once again, the family and I set out to try our luck on another weekend mushrooming romp.  What would we find and would we even find anything?  We figured we’d snag a couple Morels, enough to hopefully make it worth firing up the dehydrator and adding a little more to our reserves.

Clustered Morels

I kept wondering if each Morel was my last for the season.

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June Jaunt

Back Yard Mountains 3

Photo was taken just over 4000ft.  Central Washington, a rugged, unforgiving landscape.

 

by Brady Raymond

It may not be summer by the calendar’s account yet but it looks to be turning that page here on the ground.  As the temperature rises things are starting to dry out over on the east side, add time and a little wind to the equation and Morel season quickly turns to wildfire season.  Please, if you are out camping in the coming weeks, pay attention to the fire warnings and any burn bans that may be in effect for your next trip.

Summer may mean fire season but it doesn’t quite spell the end for Morels.  I was lucky enough to make a few quick jaunts up some east side slopes this past weekend, each trip had the potential for more  Morels than were found but on the first trip, I was hindered by motorcycle gear and on the second, children.  Lucky for me I enjoy the company of both my motorcycle and my kids, so the small quantity of Morels is made up for by the smiles on everybody’s faces.

DR650 Mroad

Best scouting tool, dual sport motorcycle.  Atlases, GPS and google Earth come in handy too.

As much as moto-gear and kids can slow you down while looking for mushrooms, both are an investment in the long run.  The motorcycle is an amazing scouting tool, keeping tabs on all the roads we frequent and checking out new ones before we try traversing them in a larger vehicle with the family.  There is nothing worse than backing up on a mountain road looking for a place to turn around because of a washout or downed tree.

Kids, on the other hand, they are just more sets of eyes and closer to the ground too.  But, as much as I want my kids to enjoy mushroom hunting, I’m less enthusiastic about either of them getting the taste for Morels.  I already have to share them with my wife.  I imagine in a few years that our spring haul will be much more substantial once the little ones put on a few inches and hone their mushroom vision into a fine laser-like focus.

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Do You Morel?

2019 MDay Morel Morel in hand

Most of the Morels I was finding were fresh and of good size.  This one being on the larger end.

by Brady Raymond

We started high, around 4000ft. and that is where we stumbled across the first few Morels of the day, just off the trail among the grass and leaves.  They were still young and fresh.  I wondered if maybe this was the last hoorah and worried that it might just be the tail end of the season, I prayed to the Mushroom Gods, that they lead me to nature’s bounty and deliver me from my fungal hunger, a hunger that has been gnawing deep inside after the long winter, with no dried reserves of the fungus left.

Do you Morel?  I Moreled my butt off Saturday, well as much as I could with two young children and a geriatric dog.  The rain seemed to scare off a lot of folks over the holiday weekend but many, including myself, were gallivanting around eastern Cascade forests in search of one of the most delectable treasures nature has to offer, the Morel.  It is also in my opinion, the best mushroom, and one worth bragging about, even if just a little bit.

Now there are some who would argue my assessment of this, finding Porcini to be the best of the west, the springtime variant of the Cep being superior to what the fall has to offer.  Yet, others will proclaim Matsutake or Lobsters to be their mushroom of choice. But I will always adore the spongy fungi known as the Morel.

Pits, pores, veins or gills, whatever your fancy, you have to make the most of it when the getting is good.  Right now is the time for Morels here in Central Washington, so get out there, they won’t last long.

2019 Mday Morel

First Morel of the day.

As the weather warmed this spring and the snow melted things seemed right on track, then it got hot and the landscape dried out.  Not the best recipe for a banner Morel year.  My season seemed like it was going to stall with an all-time low of only two Morels.  But then it happened, the weather cooled and the rains rolled in, soaking the mountains over the last week.

There was ample moisture but I was worried the temperatures were just too low, I still had hope though.  The Morels took to this second spring and erupted from the soil and a couple pounds of which I was lucky enough to find.  I cradled in my hands the first Morel of the day and rejoiced in its splendor.  This is Morel hunting in Washington, and I’m living right now.  Are You?

Usually when we’re hunting in the spring things are dry, at least on the surface, they are downright soggy this year.  It is certainly annoying to be wet, although the Morels really seemed to pop in the moisture-laden landscape.  My eyes scanned the ground and with little strain and I spotted one after another and yet another.

2019 Mday stream

My first truly wet Morel hunt in Washington.  It seemed more like fall than spring weather wise.

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Snakes!

 

Crotalus viridis 2

Crotalus viridis oreganus, the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake

by Brady Raymond

Rattlesnake 

Yes, snakes.  “isn’t this a mushroom blog?” Yeah, it’s a mushroom blog but Deviating From The Norm can be a good thing once and awhile especially when you find yourself in drier regions with few mushrooms around.  Snakes have certainly been on my mind lately and I hope they will be on your mind too this spring.  I grew up in Michigan, (southern lower peninsula) and every summer I would catch snakes, almost exclusively Garter Snakes, but I did see a few Water Snakes, Racers, and Hog-Nosed Snakes.  Once I even found a small Milk Snake.  I was young but I remember being extremely excited, they are such beautiful snake and rare in at least my experience.  My dream snake, however, was always Rattlesnakes.  I had dreams of the South, more specifically the Southwest.  The desert seemed so exotic compared to my Midwestern home and that is where as a youngster, I imagined all the Rattlers were.

Ironically, there are Rattlesnakes in Michigan.  My Grandfather and other old-timers I knew would talk of the little buggers being under piles of hay around the farm and near to swamps, which is what Michigan mostly was a century ago.  The Rattlers found in Michigan are the Massasauga Rattlesnakes and I have only seen the shed skin of one brought to school by a classmate.  I imagine they were mostly wiped out by the farmers as more land was converted to agriculture and then to housing.  If there are any in Michigan now, they are most likely confined to the thickets, marshes and swamps where folks rarely venture.

I’ve spent some time down in the Southeast and Southwest too, yet I have never stumbled across a Rattlesnake, and trust me when I say I was looking for them.  I’ve turned over plenty of rocks and logs in my day (always turn them back the way you found them) but I was never lucky enough to spot one of these beauties, until now.

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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