Morels

Morels, Morchella esculenta, Courtesy and Copyright Chris Schnepf, University of Idaho, as found on bugwood.org
Morel
Morchella esculenta
Courtesy of and
Copyright © 2009 Chris Schnepf
As found on bugwood.org

The morels are among the most highly prized edible mushrooms in North America. Also called sponge mushrooms, morels have a long list of local names. There is an on-going debate as to how many species of morel are found in North America and what each should be named. Some suggest as few as 3 species, others as many as 50 species. For simplicity, Michael Piep of the Intermountain Herbarium, says 4: white or yellow, half-free, gray and black. All are delicious.

All morels have a cone-shaped, sponge-like head on a lighter colored stem. Appearances can be deceiving … morels are difficult to spot at the best of times, and seem adroit at hiding and camouflage.

“Where does one find Morels?”

This is an interesting question … localities range from under an old apple tree in Taylorsville to pine woodlands high in the canyons. In general, the white/yellow and half-free types tend to occur along streams and rivers most often on sand bars and tend to prefer areas with mature cottonwood trees nearby. Black morels are found at higher elevations typically on north or north-east facing slopes and most frequently under Lodgepole pine, but may be found with other conifer species and even quaking aspen. Gray morels don’t seem to be as choosy, and can be found in both habitat types.

The half-free morels start fruiting first, starting at about the time the buds on the cottonwood trees are about to burst. Yellow/white morels fruit at about the time the apple blossoms show pink; as do the grays. The black morels fruit about the time the aspen leaves are the size of a dime.

Hopefully these rough guidelines will help in your pursuit of the wily morel, and as always … Happy Mushrooming!

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:
Photo: Courtesy and Copyright Chris Schnepf, University of Idaho, Bugwood.org
Text: Michael Piep, Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University

Resources:

Intermountain Herbarium: http://herbarium.usu.edu/
Bridgerland Mushroom Society: http://herbarium.usu.edu/#Bridgerland
Mushroom Society of Utah: http://www.users.uswest.net/~dwjohnston/

Snowbank Mushrooms

Snowbank Mushrooms to the right of retreating snow
© 2008 Don Johnston, Intermountain Herbarium

Hiding beneath and fruiting near the retreating snow banks here in the western mountains of North America are legions of mushrooms. Collectively known as snowbank fungi, this diverse group of fungal species is found only in the high elevation forests of our mountains were snow lingers into the summer months. These species are found mostly in the spruce-fir zone in mature forests were there is abundant litter and woody material on the forest floor and the snow pack is deep and lingers in the deep shade the trees provide. Many of the species found in such conditions are found no where else, while others are found elsewhere in the world, but not under these unique conditions.

This diverse group of fungi was first reported by Wm, Bridge Cooke in 1944 from Mt. Shasta, California. Here along the Wasatch Mountains of Utah the snowbank fungi are a predictable lot, and diverse and often abundant enough to wow even the experienced mushroomer. Some species are strictly decomposers that break down the forest litter and woody debris that carpets the forest floor while others are mycorrhizal forming those ecologically important beneficial relationships with the area plants.

The species found range from silver-gray gilled species to colorful cup and jelly fungi. At an otherwise drab time in the forest blue-stained orange cub fungi litter areas were squirrels have cached conifer seeds and cones, pale orange jelly-like poor man’s gumdrops drops dot woody debris on the forest floor. Large logs and stumps play hot to the deep orange sponge polypore with its deep ragged teeth, hidden on the forest floor is the black champagne glass-shaped Plectannia nannfeldtii, while the pale-brown, gilled Clitocybe albirhiza is rather widely scattered on the forest floor it is easily distinguished by the copious white root-like projections at the base of the stem just below the soil surface. Slime molds are found fruiting as is the edible wood ear, beneath the soil are several false truffles attracting the squirrels with enticing (to them) aromas.

So why wait for the snow to melt to enjoy the high forest? These and many more wait discovering just under the melting snow.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Lentinus montana.; by Don Johnston, © 2009 Intermountain Herbarium

Text: Michael Piep, Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University
Resources:

Intermountain Herbarium: http://herbarium.usu.edu/

Bridgerland Mushroom Society: http://herbarium.usu.edu/#Bridgerland

Mushroom Society of Utah: http://www.users.uswest.net/~dwjohnston/
References:

Arora, David. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified (2nd Ed.). 10 Speed Press. Berkeley.

Johnston, Don. Ongoing. Mushrooms of Utah. Mushroom Society of Utah. Salt Lake City.

Cooke, W.B. 1944. Notes on the ecology of the fungi of Mt. Shasta. American Midland Naturalist 31: 237-49.

Cripps, C. 2009. Snowbank Fungi Revisited. FUNGI 2(1); 47-53.

Orr, R.T. & D.B. Orr. 1979. Mushrooms of Western North America. University of California Press. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.

Smith, A.H. 1975. A Field Guide to Western Mushrooms. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Tylutki, E. E. 1987. Mushrooms of Idaho and the Pacific Northwest: Vol. 2 Non-gilled Hymenomycetes. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, Idaho.

Tylutki, E.E. 1993. Mushrooms of Idaho and the Pacific Northwest: Vol. 1 Discomycetes. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, Idaho.

 

Mushrooms in Utah

Russula emetica
Courtesy &Copyright 2008 Michael Piep

Does the mere mention of stuffed or sauteed mushrooms start your mouth to water? Perhaps you start your day dreaming of morels, porcini, truffles or chanterelles. Alas, what is poor mushroom aficionado to do? Michael Piep of the Utah State Intermountain Herbarium tells me that tasty wild mushrooms can be as close as our own backyards.

From among the most delicate and delicious to the most deadly, Utah has them. Many people are astonished to learn that Utah is home to a diversity of mushrooms. Our state has several thousand species of fungi, from molds that inhabit that old jar of jelly to the delicious King Bolete of our conifer forests.

Adroit at camouflage, Utah’s fungal wealth can be discovered by the dedicated. What is better than a day spent searching the forests for edible mushrooms? Few activities compare to traipsing along riverbeds after morels in spring, all the while avoiding poison ivy. There is a reason they call it mushroom hunting.

Fungi can be both blessing and curse… Some are innocuous decomposers of dead plant material, or active partners in mycorrhizal relationships with plant roots, but others cause dread illnesses in both plants and animals…. the fungi do it all. In each of our state’s plant communities live unique species of mushrooms, as any avid mushroom hunter can tell you.
Of course, the fruiting or our devious little friends is weather dependant. So petition your local weather service for wet weather. Dry air and soils inhibit fruiting by mushrooms.

The next time you eat a slice of bread, uncork a bottle of wine, quaff a beer, or simply savor grilled mushrooms on your steak, thank a fungus. If you wish to explore more, contact one of the two mushroom societies in the state. There, your fellow mushroom lovers will be happy to help you get on the path to fungal enlightenment.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Michael Piep

Text: Michael Piep, Utah State University, Intermountain Herbarium http://herbarium.usu.edu

Additional Reading:

Bridgerland Mushroom Society will meet 18 February 2009 See http://herbarium.usu.edu/ for details

Mushroom Society of Utah http://www.users.uswest.net/~dwjohnston

The Mushroom Journal, http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/

Utah State University: Intermountain Herbarium, http://herbarium.usu.edu

Fun Facts about Fungi, Utah State University, Intermountain Herbarium, http://herbarium.usu.edu/fungi/FunFacts/factindx.htm