By WARREN STUTESMAN
Hello again my friends, it is so very nice to be here once more. It is such a pretty day today what with the late snow fresh upon the lawn. I have heard some complaining of this late spring snow but it just makes me happy to think of the warm weather to come. And hey it is Michigan we have seen snow much later than this.
One of the great blessings of this snow is that all of my feathered friends have shown up for an easy feed. There have been 15 different species so far this morning each one trying to be more resplendent than the other. I have to say though that if I were to pick one as my favorite well for now it has to be the Pine Warbler that is visiting my suet right now.
This is the time of year that everyone seems to look forward to, mushroom season. Well at least Morel season as mushrooms are available the year round if you know how to identify them. I hope to help with some identification of a very misunderstood fungi, Gyromitra.
All species of Morchella found in Michigan have one thing in common, their caps are pitted with little hollows. The pattern of the pits varies from species to species, but all have the pits. Verpa and Gyromitra species may be ridged, wrinkled, waved or even quite smooth, but they do not have hole-like pits.
Earliest of the Morels is Verpa Bohemica, usually appearing in late April. Caps are brown and hang completely free of the stalk. Edible but should be eaten with caution. Some people have symptoms like intoxication after eating these in large amounts or for several days in a row.
Verpa Conica: Caps hang free of the stalk. Occasional large crops are found in forests of mixed conifers and hardwoods, under wild cherry trees and in old apple orchards.
Morchella Semilibera: Commonly called the “half-free” morel because the cap is detached from the stalk about halfway down. Similar in color and general appearance to Morchella esculenta but smaller.
Morchella Angusticeps: The popular “black morel,” although color varies from gray in young specimens to almost black in older ones. Hollow cap attached to stalk at lower edge. Fruits in early to mid-May under aspen, birch and balsam fir, and occasionally under maple. Crop often peaks when service berry bushes are in full bloom. Edible and considered choice; however, cases of stomach upset have been recorded when this species was eaten in large quantities for several days in a row, or was consumed with alcoholic beverages, so be careful.
The “white morel. Color varies from light cream to yellowish-brown. Hollow cap attached to stalk at base. Perhaps the easiest of all edible spring mushrooms to recognize, and therefore widely collected. Fruits in the latter half of May. Found in a wide variety of habitats, including old orchards, beech-maple forests, oak woods, burned-over meadows and occasionally lawns. Look for this species when oak leaves are in the budding stage.
Morchella Crassipes: Largest of the morels specimens weighing more than a pound have been verified. Closely resembles Morchella esculenta but is bigger. Fruits in late May to early June under oak, in beech-maple forests, old orchards and rich garden soil. A good place to hunt is around stumps of elm trees that have been dead for several years.
Four species of Gyromitra are sometimes found growing with or close to true morels. The amateur collector should consider all species of Gyromitra (false morels) to be poisonous and should leave them alone.
A special problem in Michigan is Gyromitra esculenta, which is very abundant in some springs and has been collected and eaten by thousands of people. Some of those same people who had consumed this species safely for several years have suddenly suffered acute poisoning, and a few have died. Recent research has disclosed that G. esculenta contains a highly toxic substance which may or may not be destroyed by cooking the mushrooms.
Gyromitra gigas is edible but can be confused with other, poisonous species of Gyromitra, so the amateur collector should avoid it. Gyromitra fastigiata and Gyromitra infula are definitely poisonous.
The information on mushrooms was found on the Michigan DNR website and was rewritten here.
As always when foraging any plant make sure of your identification. Check and recheck, use multiple sources for information and while I trust the above info to be true please do not take my word for it, check it out yourself. Another way to protect yourself is to learn the correct names, quit calling Gyromitra beef steaks because they are not beef steaks. Proper names equals better identification.
Take care and be safe in the woods. Warren “Toad” Stutesman