Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Phenology: Flowers, Butterflies, Mushrooms, Storm

Whew. Spring is springing. The landscape is changing. Lots of phenology novelties to record.

Weather: Sunny and warm all weekend, Monday, and Tuesday, but on Wednesday morning many of us woke up early to the sound of thunder, lightning, and intense rain. None of which is completely over. I put off coming to the computer center this morning because I didn't expect the computers would be working while the storm was raging. I'm sort of surprised they're working now.

Flowers: Forsythia, all sorts of Prunus, and daffodils have peaked. Redbuds did not bloom on Easter Sunday and would probably have peaked today if the storm hadn't interfered--they may not really reach their peak this year. Dogwoods are only getting started. Maples, willows, sycamores, and trees in the genus Prunus are greening up. Tulip poplars are yellowing. At the Cat Sanctuary, the vinca (a semi-native ground cover that does well on shady hillsides and has pretty purple flowers) in the side yard has never bloomed more abundantly or longer.

Birds: All the resident species, plus a robin family, a bluebird family, and a batch of mockingbirds have been calling attention to themselves on the road to the computer center.

Butterflies: Tiger Swallowtails, anglewings, Cabbage Whites, sulphurs, coppers, and skippers. Google is frustrating me by not showing any nice quick'n'easy references to the sort of little dark drab skipper butterfly I'm seeing; lots of pictures of the Silver-Spotted Skipper, which is common here, most years, but I've not seen them flying about yet.

Other animals: I caught and killed the first dog tick of the season yesterday.

Fungi: This is the time of year when it's possible to report good things about a few things in the fungus family--specifically the edible mushrooms. I've not seen many of them this year. Morchella elata have, after years of apparently unrewarded effort, become established at the Cat Sanctuary, but this year I've seen only one mushroom.

The names of Morchella mushrooms are quite an interesting bit of local dialect. When I was growing up outside Gate City, my elders affirmed that they were all basically the same thing, and their English name was "mullets," like the fish. In Clinchport the mushrooms are known as "dry land fish." Other English names I've heard in actual use are sponge mushrooms, ugly mushrooms, dead men's fingers (yes, in coastal areas that's the name of a sea creature), drowned men's fingers, and morels, often pronounced "morals." "Hickory chickens" and "Molly Moochers" are names for the same thing that local people may recognize but do not, so far as I've ever heard, use.

However, the question is, are there different species, or do they just look slightly different depending on where they grow? My mother used to point out the different look and flavor of M. elata (she called them "Christmas trees"), M. deliciosa ("gray babies"), and M. angusticeps (the most common "mullets" in our neighborhood). I don't know whether M. esculenta was ever among our mushroom harvest or not; I recognized it as a distinct type of morel when I grew up and found it, much later in the season, in Maryland. Anyway, Mother may consider herself vindicated to read this scientific discussion of how to recognize these four distinct species, a few others, and some other things that ARE NOT morels, don't look like them, and should never be eaten:

http://www.thegreatmorel.com/v274p3-11.pdf

All four of our morel species are edible (I've eaten many) but they are very rich, and also, being in the fungus family, they may aggravate yeast imbalances or fungus allergies. Don't eat more at one time than you can hold in your hand. Cut bite-sized pieces, soak briefly in saltwater, coat with cornmeal, fry in oil or butter until the cornmeal coating looks well done, and blot the excess oil on paper napkins before eating. The mushrooms will wilt down slightly, but one handful is still the amount a person can reasonably expect himself or herself to digest. If you insist on eating more, don't say this web site didn't warn you.

Other mushrooms that grow in Scott County at this time of year are also edible. Puffballs can be eaten before they turn to dust--by the time you're picking morels, it's too late--and chanterelles are well spoken of by those who can find them.