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.
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.
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.
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.