In the spring, mushrooms and fleshy fungi do not immediately appear just because the trees break their dormancy and leaf out. One of the earliest fungi that appear in the spring is the Devil’s urn (Urnula craterium). In central Arkansas, this fungus can be seen growing out from the underside of medium sized branches that have become detached from hardwood trees and have fallen to the ground, beginning around the middle of March. As the soil temperature begins to warm in the months of April and May, other mushrooms such as members of the genera Russula, Gymnopus and Xerula will appear. Also, spring is the only time to find morels and false morels in Arkansas.
Morels, false morels and their allies, the cup fungi, are some of the earliest fleshy fungi to appear each year, often a few weeks after the Devil’s Urns have appeared. Both yellow and black morels are more prevalent in the northern counties of Arkansas. They have been collected in close proximity to eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), ash (Fraxinus sp.), and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees. In the Arkansas River valley ecoregion they can appear as early as mid March or as late as mid April. However, in some years they may not appear in a given area at all!
Our most common false morel is Gyromitra caroliniana, which can get rather large in size. Specimens over a foot tall and weighting several pounds are not uncommon. This mushroom usually appears a few weeks before the black and yellow morels appear. Other mushrooms that can be seen in early to mid spring are the winter oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), the wood ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae), and mica caps (Coprinellus micaceus).
The Devil’s Urn (Urnula craterium)
Winter Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) Photo: Susan and Van Metzler