Spring is here! At least that is what the calendar says. Since we moved to Oregon 10 years ago we have noticed that Oregon springs are a little erratic. More like summer one day and winter the next. The good news about this is that the winter mushrooms overlap with the spring mushrooms. I don’t think the winter Chanterelles, Hedgehogs, and Black Trumpets will suddenly disappear on the first day of spring, which is tomorrow. But, they are on their way out.
So, what should you expect to see next? Like winter mushrooms, spring mushrooms are also “slim pickings”. But, they are considered to be tasty, and fun to find: Spring Oysters, Spring Boletes, and the infamous and mysterious Morel!
Spring oyster mushrooms are only different from fall oyster mushrooms by the fact they fruit in the spring. All Oysters are considered to be in the Pleurotus group or complex, however, the specific species we have in the PNW is still up for debate. You can find oyster mushrooms both in the forest and in urban settings.
Most of my sightings have been along waterways. Oysters are fan-shaped and fruit in clusters on dead standing or downed hardwood logs (oak, maple, alder, cottonwood). Their cap color is variable. They can be grey to greyish white or buff to grayish brown.To complicate things more they become paler with yellow discolorations in age. Their whitish gills are decurrently attached to a very short or non-existent stem. The gill description in most books also mention the small beetles that are often found between the gills of mature specimens. So, be sure to give them a good rinse. Also expect the spores to be white, buff to lilac-grey. Oyster mushrooms are considered to be a delicious edible. The good news is if you cannot find them in the wild they are also one of the easiest mushrooms to cultivate and are often found in your local market.
Morels, Morels, Morels! There is both so much and so little to be said about these very difficult to understand mushrooms. I like most people, am in the “little to be said” category as I have yet to find what I would consider to be a Morel jackpot. But, I am still holding out hope as evidenced by the only book that I own about a single mushroom. What other mushroom has their own book? My reading has taught me about three types of mushrooms based upon their fruiting habitat; landscape morels, natural morels, and burn morels. The morel season will extend from now through June. So, I will tell you [more than I know] about natural and burn morels in the next few months. For right now, you should be looking for Landscape Morels. These are Morels that typically come up in urban/suburban areas. Ron and I have seen them fruiting in plant nursery pots, in roadside planting beds, alongside walking paths, in mulched areas, and in vegetable beds covered with cardboard or mulch. I do not often see them in the middle of a lawn in town, but I have seen them in grassy patches outside of town. We spoke to one gentleman in town who told us that he had a large tree removed along with a big landscape re-do and the next spring his entire backyard was covered with Morels. Most mushroom guides and Morel websites agree that the species of landscape Morel in our area is Morchella importuna. Why they come
up where they come up is a mystery to me and to most everyone that looks for them. Some are convinced that the best way to find landscape Morels is to document all new spreadings of mulch and return to those locations in the spring. That may work, but I have also spotted Morels in areas that had obviously not seen any new mulch in several years. Others say to keep an eye out for those large landscaping projects. That is also a good idea. But, my method is just to get outside on foot or by bike on every nice day we have. Enjoy the spring flowers that are coming up and keep an eye out for Morels. Ever since we have started looking for landscape Morels we have seen at least one fruiting of 1 to 10 Morels each year. If you are lucky, you will find enough for a meal. As with all urban/suburban mushrooms be careful of areas that may be pesticide-laden. Also, follow the CMS edibility guidelines to make sure you have no reactions to eating Morels. Morels are known to be poisonous when raw, so cook them thoroughly and avoid any deep breaths of their fumes while cooking.
Best for Beginners – I would not recommend Oyster mushrooms for beginners (or any other gilled mushroom). Morels are fine for beginners once you can recognize false Morels which should not appear in town. I will talk about those next month along with Spring Boletes which are great for beginners.