Sunday, June 09, 2013

Besides morels

There are probably very few Ozarkers who wouldn't recognize a morel when they happened to find one in the woods. Why, morels are things of lore in Missouri, the subject of various types of folk art, tall tales, and of history. When the morels appeared in my backyard last April, there was no need to look them up in a mushroom field guide. But all of the recent rains have not only been a boon for my Desmodiums which are now showing up all over the place, but for a handful of other mushrooms that we haven't seen in a couple of years.

At the base of a misshapen red oak, one large chicken of the woods appeared two years ago. The front yard has a substrate of gravel, roofing tiles, and other trash left behind during the renovation of this old property. No fancy loamy soils here. During the drought last year, we never saw the mushroom. This year, it has exploded all around the base of the tree, three large, stately mushrooms. I don't know what animal normally eats chicken of the woods, but whomever it is does not visit my yard. I left the morels in situ this year, and the squirrels seemed to enjoy them quite well.

In the far back corner, past the chinquapin oak, there's a small strip of virtually bare soil, part of a fireline that normally only harbors a handful of Polygonums and twigs that are raked away each October in preparation for fire. I didn't notice this vaguely creepy Xylaria back there, common name of Dead Man's Fingers (for obvious reasons). They're living off twigs and duff of deciduous trees.The neighbor who lives behind me, jealous of the morels in the yard, is always excited about new plants and mushrooms that show up a stone's throw from his rental property. He was a little horrified by the Dead Man's Fingers, but immediately asked what everyone always asks: can you eat it? I don't believe they're edible, but even if they were, they'd share the same fate as the edible mushrooms in the yard: take one, but leave the bulk for the natural processes at play and at work to conduct business as usual.


Unknown said...

They really do look a dead man's fingers!

Allison Vaughn said...

They're pretty disgusting in appearance, which made me really question why my neighbor was so interested in their edibility. Would you really eat something that looks like that? Not me.