Field Journal: 07 - 13 April 2019 - Thimblecap Morel Edition

I didn't have much time to spend at Roy's Redwoods this week, but I wanted to make sure I got a snapshot of the False Solomon's Seals in bloom.

Genus Maianthemum (False Solomon's Seals)

There's a clearing on the north end of the alluvial flat - between the big redwood ring and a west-facing slope - where they grow by the hundreds, forming a thick green carpet. Their delicate white flowers don't last long; they'll soon begin to wither and brown, and over the coming months, the fertile ones will transform into bright red berries.

I've recently noticed redbud trees are budding along the residential streets here. When I lived in Oklahoma, I watched for this every spring, because it signaled the beginning of morel season. I'd encountered a morel relative last spring at Roy's Redwoods, so I went looking in the same spot again this week - and there they were!

Thimblecap Morel (Verpa conica)

Verpa conica belongs to Family Morchellaceae - Morels and Allies - so it's related to the morels I hunted back in Oklahoma, or the ones you might find in a grocery store (if you're lucky.) Thimblecap Morels are likewise edible, but they require a long cooking time. Mushrooms in this family produce toxins that can cause severe gastrointestinal distress if they're not thoroughly cooked - severe nausea, excruciating abdominal pain, cold sweats, vomiting, & diarrhea for 12-24 hours.

Thimblecap Morel (Verpa conica)

Problem is, most cooks treat mushrooms like a vegetable, but there are significant differences between fungi and plants. Plant cell walls are primarily made of cellulose - long chains of sugar molecules that are easily and quickly broken down by heat. It's easy to overcook vegetables.

But fungal cell walls are made of chitin - the same tough material used by insects to construct their exoskeletons. Chitin is much harder to break down, so mushrooms take much longer than vegetables to cook. It's practically impossible to overcook a mushroom. And mushrooms produce an astonishing variety of toxins that can make you sick in an equally astonishing variety of ways. Many of these toxins, like the ones produced by morels that cause GI distress, can be broken and rendered harmless with enough heat, but that takes a lot of time. Most morels served at restaurants aren't cooked nearly long enough to neutralize those toxins.

Friends, I have personally experienced the toilet-bound horror of eating undercooked morels. It was memorably unpleasant. Please cook your mushrooms thoroughly.

As for the Thimblecap Morels: In my experience, they're too bland and brittle to bother with eating. Best way to appreciate them is a gentle pat on the cap, a light squeeze of the hollow stipe, and a photo.

Yellow-Spotted Millipede (Harpaphe haydeniana)

Millipedes are still active and abundant in the leaf litter and under woody debris. I only stopped to turn over a couple of logs this week and easily found Harpaphe and Tylobolus.

Genus Tylobolus

Previously: 31 March - 06 April 2019 - The Forest With the More-est Edition

Next: 14 - 20 April 2019 - First Lizard of Spring! Edition

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