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Friday, May 27, 2011

Morels are Up in the Methow Valley

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Hurrah!  Black Morels (Morchella species) have begun their ascent into the skies and landscapes of the Methow Valley.  One often associates collecting these mushroom gems from fire-burned areas that occurred in previous years.  However, if one has the eyes to see jewels in the rough, then this mushroom is also momentarily making its debut along and near the banks of the Methow River in association with the leaf litter of Black Cottonwoods.
Another woodland wonder that is currently arising is the Yellow Morel.  This mushroom also haIMG_0055s mycorrhizal relationships with deciduous trees such as the cottonwood tree.  Both these mushrooms are splendid as an addition to gourmet cuisine.  Finding mushrooms of these types gives the hunter a true feeling of communion with the land, as they then take care in each step, as one’s awareness is then in the infinite details of nature’s understory. 
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In the first several weeks of May, the Early Morel was the first to peak its head above ground in groundhog fashion. This is one of many false morels that often fool novice collectors.  Also known as Verpa bohemica, this species in known by some to be poisonous and by others as edible if cooked properly.  Apparently, it can cause gastronomical upset in some individuals.  I ate this false morel on two occasions, and found it to be fine to the taste.  So collect and eat with caution knowing exactly that which you partake in.
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In the photo above, you can see how the black morel on the left has its skirt or cap attached to the stem where the skirt ends towards the bottom.  However, in Verpa bohemica,on the right, the cap is attached at the top of the stem.  The interior of the stem also has a soft cottony tissue that often has worms browsing about in the older mushrooms. 
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And finally, yesterday I found yet another species of Morel look-alikes called Verpa conica. I found this false morel, also known as thimble fungus, under some conifer trees near a pond.  The literature sites this mushroom as edible by some, with the chance that some foragers will have gastronomical discomfort. 
Have fun in the woods……
And be sure to have a great i.d. book and know what you are picking and browsing upon always.