Monday, April 22, 2013

Morels Do Exist Near Auburn Alabama!

A thick-footed morel (Morchella crassipes) near Auburn, AL.  My friend Cody stumbled upon this patch.  I believe I owe him a beer.

     Contrary to what the locals have told me, morels do grow in the Auburn-Opelika area!  I'm not sure if the locals were just trying to protect their morels, or if they just didn't know what morels were, but I am sure that they are here.  I don't want to give away my exact spot, but I will tell you that they are north of the fall line.  My very fortunate friend also had black morels (Morchella angusticeps) pop up in her Auburn yard!
      While I was out looking for oyster mushrooms on Easter Sunday, I received one of the best text messages ever.  It was a picture of a beautiful morel with the caption, "Is this a mushroom?"  I was extremely excited to learn that they were popping up in my friend's yard among a patch of ivy.  Unfortunately, that patch only produced 3 very small black morels.  I was happy to know that morels existed in the area, but the small yield of the patch was disappointing.  After searching a few areas, I decided to give up on my hunt for morels and I went back to searching for oyster mushrooms.  However, while on a short hike last Saturday (April13), my friend spotted a strange, spongelike mushroom!  He had found a patch of thick-footed morels (Morchella crassipes**)!  The 4-6 inch tall mushrooms were camouflage at first, but once we realized they were around, we began to notice them popping through the leaf litter all around us.  Although most of them were past their prime, we still managed to bring a few home!

These small black morel(Morchella angusticeps)* were the first morel species to pop up in Auburn.  The hollow cross section is a characteristic of morels.
The cool spring this year was great for oyster mushrooms* in the southeast.  Little did I know that an even more coveted mushroom was growing on the forest floor.
Here is a decent sized thick-footed morel (Morchella crassipes)*.
Some of our harvest.
The hollow cross section is also evident in this photo of a thick-footed morel that has been sliced in half.
Unlike the black morel, the thick-footed morel is not smooth on the inside of the mushroom.

Here is a close up of the pits, which house the spore producing structutes.
      Sunday brought cool weather (in the 40's) and plenty of rain, so I hoped more morels would be enticed to fruit.  I searched on Tuesday, but all I found were the ones I had previously left on the weekend.  This Friday also brought rain and cool weather, so I'm tempted to go out searching again.  I suspect that the season is over, but walking through the woods is always fun, so I might as well search. Even if the season is over, I am comforted by the fact that morels can be found here, and that I have patches to search next year.

This front brought plenty of rain and cooler temperatures, but it wasn't enough to entice my morels into a second flush.  perhaps the season is over down here.  I'm not really sure.
      The foraging season has only just begun!  Good luck!

*Note:  It is your responsibility to correctly identify any plant or fungi that you plan on eating.  Consult a local expert and/or an accurate field guide.  Do not eat any wild plant or fungus unless you are 100% sure of its identity.

**Recent tananomic studies suggest that the thick-footed morel (Morchella crassipes) and the yellow morel (Morchella esculenta) are actually two forms of a single species.  However, I have used the older names in this post to be consistent with Weber and Smith (1985).

Nancy Smith Weber and Alexander H. Smith. A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Michigan. 1985 pp.61-64.

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