Hold onto your baskets, the Morel Hour approaches. A report of San Diego “beauty bark” morels came in on Feb. 24, and a hunter in Gold Hill, OR, reports finding 13 yesterday, March 3rd. It seems a little early, especially considering the winter we’ve had and the trickle of reports coming out of Southern Cal, but morels like to mess with our heads. More likely this time of year are the morel look-alike relatives: Verpas (Verpa bohemica and Verpa conica), which prefer riparian bottomlands in our neck of the woods, particularly the cottonwood forests along river corridors; and false morels, also known as snowbank morels, which can often be found in the same habitat as true morels, only earlier in the season, when snow is still on the ground.
FOTL will be monitoring morel reports from around the country to bring you the latest news, but he doesn’t expect to be looking himself anytime before next month. Unlike previous years, the camellias in FOTL’s yard still have not bloomed, and a quick gander at Washington State’s snowpack surveys for the Olympics and Cascades reveals a higher than normal accumulation for every station, including Snoqualmie Pass, which is 120 percent of normal, and Crystal Mountain, which is 147 percent of normal. That’s a lot of snow yet, folks!
Oh, and by the way, if you find a false morel, think twice about eating it. Yes, I know, old crotchety mushroom hunters in different parts of the country talk about eating false morels all their life with nuthin’ bad come of it, but get this: scientists have isolated the chemical properties of this fungi and discovered that an active ingredient called gyromitrin is the same compound when metabolized as monomethylhydrazine—also known as rocket fuel! You can read more about the toxicity of false morels here.