An interesting foray

I'm still not sure of these, and I threw them out last night.

It’s been a while since I updated, chiefly because I’ve not been out too much, and my recent forays have been fruitless.  I was disappointed to have come up entirely blank in terms of chanterelles, though, admittedly, I didn’t get out in late June, and may have missed my best opportunities.  However, a bumper crop of mosquitoes was very de-motivating.

I sallied forth yesterday, with some interesting – albeit inedible – results.  Today is another beautiful day, and I plan to visit some spots in southern Wisconsin to see what I can see.

Yesterday I went through the wood near my home.  It’s a varied wood – a scrubby boarder of elm, cherry and a lot of junk (buckthorn, boo) ringing more mature growths of conifers and oaks.  In the conifer grove I spotted a bunch of russet-topped, yellowy-gold mushrooms growning from dead wood.  They had off-set stems, and grew in clusters.  But they weren’t chanterelles. Oysters, maybe?

The mystery mushrooms.

The mystery mushrooms were plentiful, and smelled really good – rich and mushroomy, not at all foul or unpleasant.  They were meaty, fresh and substantial. I stuck a few in the bag to take home to ID.

You'll forgive me for first thinking these were oysters.

The spore print was clear and vivid.

I tried to ID these, and I believe it’s a Velvet Footed Pax.  There appears to be some debate over whether the genus is Paxillus or Tapinella, but all guides I consulted agreed on the species: atrotomentosa.  The spore print was golden yellow, turning brownish when I left the cap on the paper for hours.   And the fat, brown, fuzzy stem on larger specimens was distinctive.   It was pretty clear I had a big batch of inedible mushrooms!  Into the trash they went.

While in the woods, I also decided to try to find the spot where I had found some very expired but at one point ginormous-puffballs-of-some-stripe very early this spring.  I bumbled around and eventually hit the jackpot.  These monsters were enormous – the size of good size watermelons!

Immense, and aged, puffballs. I am not sure of the species.

This was a good sized cluster, and they were aged.  However, I couldn’t resist cutting into one, using a sharp broken stick. It appears that the insides were once white.  Were these giant (delicious, edible) puffballs?  I don’t know.  But I will be checking this spot earlier next year.

Another cluster of big puffballs, species TBD.

Just wow.

A truly monster morel

This season was largely a bust for me.  The good news is that I’m feeling pretty good about next year.  I have a few good habitats staked out for morel hunting in 2012.

I found enough morels to make a couple omelettes but too few for anything more extravagant.  And I spent a lot of time looking in the wrong places.

I found some of the right places last night.  I dumped some spent dirt from one of last year’s plant pots behind the woodpile, and spotted a nice cluster of expired yellows.

It was a nice evening, so I decided to have a tramp through a nearby wood.  Upon leaving, I  roamed around the area I normally walk right by as I enter the forest.  Yup, you guessed it.  Another nice morel patch, with some large, past-due specimens.

I went home empty handed, but full plans for next May.

[2012] It’s Morel Season in the Northern Chicago Suburbs!

The first morel I spotted, near an elm stump.

I took a walk through the wood behind my house tonight, and was thrilled to spot some morels.  I left several, including the one pictured, in the woods to grow for another day or so.  But I know where they are.  I’ll be revisiting the area soon.

And I might sneak out to the woods after work tomorrow. Mostly, I’m just happy that I’ve not forgotten what these look like.

The morels I spotted tonight were on the periphery of the wood, near an elm stump on which some pheasant backs were growing.

Notes:  Temperatures have been hovering in the low 50’s for the last several days, and we’ve had quite a bit of rain.   These mushrooms were found on Wednesday, May 4.  Monday and Tuesday were quite cool, following more moderate temperatures on the weekend.  Today it hit 58 and the morels are just starting to appear.

Other species:

Jack in the Pulpits are up, but small, and only about 8″ high.  This picture was taken on May 1.

Trillium shoots have appeared as well, and are starting to leaf out.

Pheasant backs are everywhere, and I spotted budding fruits almost two weeks ago.

First Real Foray – 2011

No mushrooms today, but my luck is still better than this deer's.

Last week I gained permission to hunt in a wood near my home, and today I went on a recon mission to scout my new mushrooming domain.  And while I found numerous polyporus squamoses (also called pheasant back or dryad’s saddle) just starting to fruit, I saw nary a morel.  I knew that it’s still a bit early, it’s not been quite warm enough.

Polyporus squamosus, just starting to fruit. Common names include Pheasant Back or Dryad's Saddle

That didn’t stop me from toting a couple bags with my in my pockets.  You know.  Just in case.

Despite being shutout today, I’m very excited about my new hunting grounds. The terrain is rolling, and a nice mix of deciduous and conifers, with lots of elm and ash, and lots of trees in various stages of life, death and decay.

A promising section of The Woods.

There are a few oaks, but because the forest I hunt in Wisconsin is primarily oak, I’m happy to have a different environment available to me.

I’m in a bit of a dither, I’ll admit.  Temperatures are going to be spotty this week, between the mid- and high 50’s.  Maybe by the latter part of the week, we’ll see the morels pop.  Fingers crossed!

Unidentified: whitish tree-dweller with broad stem

I have no idea what species these mushrooms represent.  And I wish 1) that I knew and 2) that the variety is edible because last fall these things were  growing all over the elm trees in my yard, and in the wood ringing my house.

These pictures are from late in the year – October, I believe, and after we had some frost.  I’ll pay more attention this year, because I have no doubt I’ll see them again.

They’re big and meaty.  A really solid mushroom.  Anyone care to point me in the right direction?

Here’s what I know:

  • Whitish cap, with distinctive crackling across the top.
  • Pale amber gills that do not extend down the stem.
  • Big, burly stem that has a bulbous flare the bottom.
  • Irregular shape – they don’t seem to be uniformly round.
  • However, the stem is pretty much centered.  They are  (very sadly) not oyster mushrooms. Very sadly.
  • They appear to grow singly.  I have not seen clusters of them.  (I have seen clusters, they grow in small clumps and singly.)
  • These mushrooms grow on living trees, well off the ground (eye level, and upward.)

I’ve identified these mushrooms – they are Elm Oysters, edible but not super choice.  They’re good steamed and then pickled, as they have a firm texture that holds up to that treatment.   Note that these are best young, and the pictures in this post show aged specimens.  As always, thoroughly identify mushrooms before eating!


It’s not time. Not yet.

Reports of morel harvests in southern Illinois have started to roll in, inflaming the imaginations of shroomers in northern climes.

Mayapples. Immature, baby mayapples - weeks away from blooming.

But it’s not time yet.  Not up north.  A good rule of thumb, people say, are mayapple blooms. I spotted these babies last weekend – and we’re weeks away from blooms.

Up here, morels happen in May.

It’s not time.  Not yet.

Friend or foe?


An American Parasol mushroom. I think.

Early last fall I found a stately white mushroom sprouting from a fallen oak tree.  It had some berry seeds (wild cherries?) lodged on its cap, possibly dropped by squirrels dining in the canopy above.

The prior week, I had seen a snowy, glowing forest fungi. I am pretty sure that was a fabled Destroying Angel, which, as you might guess from the name, doesn’t agree with human digestion. At all. I didn’t get a picture.  It was beautiful, and weirdly tempting.  But I knew better.

A distinctive raised 'button' in the center of the cap *may* indicate this is a Parasol mushroom.

Now standing in front of another whitish mushroom, I was sure I was looking at something different.  I’m pretty sure it was some form of Parasol mushroom.  It had a distinct button in the middle of its cap, which was raised, and darker than the rest of the cap.  It had the characteristic bulbous flare at the bottom of the stem. Unlike the Destroying Angel from the prior week, it wasn’t snowy white.  But that really is meaningless – a rainstorm can sully a pristine specimen, which is one reason why I don’t go just by color alone.

A better look at the mystry mushroom's gills.

I’m fairly sure it was a Parasol.   But I left it behind.  It wasn’t terribly fresh, it was the only mushroom I saw that day, and, well, I wasn’t sure.

Had there been a few, I would have collected some, and I would have identified them rigorously with spore prints and other criteria.  I know where that log is.  Maybe a cluster of Parasols will await my definitive identification there this fall, giving me another chance.  But I’ll probably pass on them this year, too.

The first find.

hen of the woods miatake

I keep my beloved retired horse at a farm that’s ringed with oak forests.  One summer day, as I was paying my steed a visit, I looked off into the woods, and thought “mushrooms.”

The summer before, a friend of mine had found a good size hen of the woods.  She showed it to me, and I convinced her to let me make a wild mushroom lasagna with it.  The dish was a hit.   I tried to remember exactly when that had transpired, but I wasn’t able to recall when she found that mushroom.  I did remember that it was cool, however.

At home, I consulted Google, and ordered “Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois” from Amazon.  Happily, I learned that the season for Hens wasn’t yet upon us.    I had a few weeks to wait.

The following weekend, when I went to check in on my horse, I took a walk through the woods.  I noted dead and dying trees.  My pulse quickened.  I also saw a lot of nettles, burrs and poison ivy.  Ugh.

The next few weeks were dry, and hot.  Not a single fungus was to be seen, aside from a lichen here and there.  I continued sallying forth, teaching my eyes to distinguish patterns on the forest floor, and to pick out lichens.

And then it rained.

I eagerly headed out, and found a gorgeous reward – a big, beautiful Hen of the Woods (also called maitake, or by its Latin name, Grifola Frodosa.) Reverently, I kneeled down, felt underneath it, and pulled it free.  I strutted out of the wood with my prize, and went home to make a mushroom lasagne. (Cheesy, no tomato, just some spinach and ricotta filling, napped with bechamel and Parmesan.)

And that was just the beginning.

Hope Springs.

Last weekend’s temperatures soared into the 80’s, and then were followed by some nice drenching rain.  Good mushroom conditions – except for the fact that it’s early April here in northern Illinois.  We’re still a few weeks away from morel season.

My family casually hunted morels when I was a kid but we weren’t devoted hunters.  However, I started paying attention to wild mushrooms again a couple years ago, and made a devoted effort to go out and look last fall.   To say that I was handsomely rewarded is gross understatement:


A fantastic one-day haul: hens-of-the-woods, honey mushrooms and giant puffballs


I brought home four hens-of-the-woods, two giant puffballs and scores of honey mushrooms.

It was a truly magical day. The honey mushrooms were clustered by the multiple dozens around an oak tree, and next to them were three hens of the woods. I already had found another hen, which I almost dropped in excitement when I saw the hens and honeys arrayed in front of me.


Honey mushrooms growing next to a hen of the woods

I literally gathered what I could carry.  Both are perennial, and I know where their tree is. More will be found there this fall.   I staggered out of the woods with my load, and filled up the back seat of my car.

But the riches didn’t end there.  Driving down the country highway, I spotted giant puffballs growing under trees by the road. I swung into the driveway, and knocked at the door.

The woman who answered was very interested when I told her that I suspected that she had some delicious giant puffballs in her yard, and accepted my offer to identify them.


Giant puffballs


I cut one open, and it was pure white inside, with zero greening.  They were perfect puffballs, ready to eat. Uncertain about eating mushrooms found in her hard, she offered them to me.  I accepted but took only two, leaving the third to (hopefully) reproduce.

I am sure that this wildly successful day was an anomoly. I’m trying not to let my expectations become too unrealistic.

But I won’t kid you.  Come may, I hope to regale you with tales of morels.  And oyster mushrooms. And chicken mushrooms.  And in June, chantrelles…

Hope in the spring.  There’s a reason for that old adage.