BELINGTON, W.Va. — Chances are if you’ve ever picked a mess of wild mushrooms, they were morels. Bill Roody, the foremost authority on wild mushrooms and author of the book Wild Mushrooms of West Virginia and Central Appalachia agrees they are likely the most popular.
“It’s the most well known and probably most popular,” Roody said in a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors. “It’s pretty easy to recognize and a lot of people are out in the woods at this time of the year which is the season for morels. Once you have your first taste of them you’re hooked.”
Morels are known by a host of other names depending on what section of Appalachia you call home. Dry land fish, haystacks, merkles–which Roody says is an Appalachian adjustment on the name ‘Miracle”, and molly moocher are some of the common names associated with the tasty mountain treat.
“The two things most critical are moisture and temperature,” said Roody. “There’s a very short season, relatively speaking, from about mid-April to mid-May and a little bit on either end of that scale depending on where you are in the state.”
The frigid weather in the early spring delayed the emergence of morels during the time they’re normally found, but Roody said they are now starting to emerge. He also suggested once you’ve found a patch of morels, make a mental note.
“You can pretty much figure, that’s where they live and given the right conditions they will fruit there again,” he said.
He suggested also harvesting the morels with a knife rather than digging them up.
“If you dig them out, you upturn the soil where that underground part of the fungus grows and it will kill the fungus,” Roody shared. “It’s best just to harvest them with a knife.”
While morels are the most commonly sought mushrooms, they certainly aren’t the only ones edible. A shelf fungus which grows on trees with an bright orange coloration with yellow on the underside is often called “chicken of the woods.”
Some often worry about harvesting wild mushrooms, fearful of grabbing the wrong ones which could be sickening. It’s a very real possibility according to Roody who equated fear of mushrooms to fear of snakes. He suggested knowledge is the key and being able to aptly identify the two most dangerous types of mushrooms.
“One is called the “death angel”, it’s a tall, white and stately looking mushroom. It looks like it would be delicious,” said Roody. “Those who have survived eating it say it tastes great, but if you eat it you’ll be lucky to get out of it with nothing more than a liver transplant.”
The second variety of deadly mushroom in West Virginia is commonly known as the “funeral bell.”
“It’s a little brown mushroom that grows on logs.” said Roody. “It’s not that distinctive and it sometimes grows on the same logs as the honey mushroom which is also a brown mushroom and is edible. The ‘deadly galerina’ is another name for it.”
Those wanting to learn more about mushrooms are encouraged to pick up Roody’s book, or make plans to attend a weekend seminar in July at Canaan Valley with numerous experts on mushroom identification.