Friday, 10 June 2016

False Friends

Fungus observations from LAPLAND

My fungus misidentification skills have been abroad! To Lapland the land of the Sámi and the vast, wild expanse of the taiga: the boreal forest that stretches across Norway, Sweden and Finland to Russia, and beyond.

First stop was Muddus national park in Sweden, a huge area of old growth forest, lakes and marshes which has been protected from the effects of commercial forestry – first by the glacial landforms which made the area upstream of Muddus's spectacular waterfalls and canyons unsuitable for logging, and later by the work of conservationists who secured national park status for the area in 1942.

Muddus national park, Sweden. A place so magical the waterfalls look like wizards.

Arriving in Muddus at the end of May, after the snow and before the mosquitos, we were greeted by temperatures over 25 degrees. Being situated in the arctic circle, around 66 ° North, the sun never really sets at this time of year – so the hot days were followed by balmy evenings which seemed to go on forever. 

Me in Muddus around midnight.
Many habitats are marvellous in Spring, but I have never before experienced one quite so enchanting. Happily, the park is crossed by well-maintained paths and boardwalks, so there was no cause to worry about any Babes in the Wood -type scenarios.
Babes in the Wood - 7 - illustrated by Randolph Caldecott - Project Gutenberg eText 19361.jpg
The babes in the wood who, with hand in hand, went wandering up and down. (SPOILER ALERT: They died).

My first fungal encounter was with this toadstool, growing by the path. Observing its distinctive wrinkly cap and paler stem, I announced confidently:

"This is a Morel! They're a delicacy in France."

Toadstool in Muddus national park, Sweden

As the days of hiking through the taiga wore on, I noticed that these toadstools occurred regularly along the sandy, drier sections of the path. They began to seem familiar. I wondered what they would taste like fried in butter.

Fortunately I know better than to trust my mycological knowledge. As soon as we were back in the land of people and mobile phone reception, I turned to the internet for information which might confirm my identification...

These were not Morels! They were False Morels (a Gyromitra species) – DEADLY POISONOUS!!!

I hesitate to put a species name to them as there are probably more Gyromitra species in Scandinavia than are known to me, with my British field guides. But the habitat and 'jizz' match closely with descriptions of False Morel Gyromitra esculenta, said to be "very poisonous".
Imagine then my confusion upon seeing this now familiar fungus lining the shelves in Kiruna supermarket, on tins labelled "Murklor". A quick rummage around in Wikipedia (assisted by the awesome power of Google Translate) suggests that "Murklor" is a collective term for Morels and Morel-like species. However, the list of 'ingredienser' has Gyromitra esculenta my poisonous friend as the chief ingredient.

Further trawling through Wikipedia has revealed that, although potentially fatal if eaten raw, Gyromitra esculenta is a popular delicacy; in Scandinavia, not France as I had originally proclaimed. But they must be prepared carefully to reduce their toxicity and, even then, food safety experts seem divided over whether they are actually safe to eat.

I'll stick to just enjoying how they look.

Another one. In Lemmenjoki national park, Finland

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