Saturday, March 22, 2008

Things that go bump in the night

Strange things have been happening in our front yard, and yesterday we finally found out what was going on.

It all started last summer. I've hated our front lawn ever since we bought our house. Living in a semi-arid climate, it takes an enormous amount of water to keep a lawn healthy, and it's just a waste of a scarce resource. And oh yeah, I hate mowing.

So last summer we ripped out the lawn, which was mostly evil Bermuda grass anyway, covered it with landscape paper, then topped it with bark chips, with a goal of gradually adding some drought-tolerant plants.

A few weeks ago, Boyfriend was out plucking unwelcome weeds that were popping up in the bark when he noticed something amazing: a morel mushroom. Boyfriend has gone foraging in the woods for morels many times without success, and suddenly there was one in our front yard.

And another. And another. And another.

Clearly, one of the bags of bark that we'd gotten from our neighborhood mega-hardware store had contained some morel spores. How lucky were we?

Naturally, Boyfriend blogged about it and promptly began including these little gifts in our meals.

It was fun, too - it was like having an Easter egg hunt every morning where we went outside, scoured the bark and looked for little treasures.

But they've dried up lately. Looked like they were all done.

That's how it looked, anyway.

We'd both been noticing something though - some bumps in the yard, where the landscape paper was pushing up through the bark, like a rising volcano.

I made a mental note to check it out at some point. I knew I'd left some rocks and junk under the paper, so perhaps the ground was heaving a bit.

Boyfriend, however, checked it out yesterday. He slit the landscape fabric, and here's what he found:

It had to be a morel - the spores must have gotten under the landscape paper, and they must have thrived because of how that paper holds in moisture. But could we eat it? Should we?

I went online and found a website called Morel Mania, Inc. and emailed that photo to the webmaster, Tom, to see what he thought.

When I got up this morning, he had responded. Don't you love all these webmaniacs so dedicated to their topics that they'll respond at any hour?

What good fortune for you to find morels in your own yard!

No, I would not eat the "giant mutant morel" because I can't really tell from the picture whether it truly is a morel or not. My guess is, not. My gut feeling is that it is a different mushroom.

In the light of day, though, I went out this morning and photographed more of the bumps, and the result this time was pretty clear: These were morels:

The big question now is whether these are the good ones, or the mycellium - the equivalent of the queen bee, the part that would produce more and more and more morels for us.

Fueled by more coffee, I went back and re-read Tom's email to me.

If it is the mycellium, it probably would not have the taste of the morel anyway and yes, it could continue producing morels for you.

Now I need to give Tom a chance to look at these photos and weigh in.

But it doesn't even matter at this point. We're just so excited this happened - it's like being a lifelong believer in UFOs, going years without seeing any, then suddenly finding out aliens have built an invisible UFO landing pad in your front yard.

Now, we're just enjoying the show.

# # #

Just heard back from Tom:

Of the three new pictures, the top one is definitely a morel and still fairly fresh. The second also looks like a morel, but probably too old to consume. The third one is probably a morel given some of the features and its proximity to the other ones, but hard to tell.

Three features determine a true morel. 1 - true pits and ridges on the cap, as opposed to wrinkles and folds. 2 - Both cap and stem are completely hollow. 3 - The cap and stem connect to each other at the base of the cap.

Tom Nauman, Morel Mania, Inc.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


-::brown sugar::- said...

"And oh yeah, I hate mowing."

--Me too. That's why I try to find places where I'm not responsible for it ^_^

I love how you guys are willing to try new things like that. I would of stepped on it and kept it movin'.

Learn something new everyday from you...

Blessed said...

I love Morels - we didn't get to go look for any this year... I wish they would grow in my yard!

Albert A Rasch said...


And now you have to wait for duck season to open again. Morels and ducks don't coincide do they?

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

NorCal Cazadora said...

No, they don't, Albert. But turkey season is almost upon us! If we keep our front yard damp and pray that we don't hit 90 soon (a distinct possibility), we might have fresh morels with wild turkey.