July 18, 2011

The Fire Morels of Wemotaci: We Were Witnesses

For decades, modern day “gold hunters” have flocked to the forests of North America’s west coast in search of fire morels that spring up after the region’s devastating forest fires. This seasonal Klondike rush, in which many Native American communities now participate, has begun to intrigue would be gatherers on this side on the continent. The fire morel is considered to be a unique species (Morchella tomentosa), closely related to the black morel (Morchelle elata), but distinguished by the down-like substance in which it is covered and by the double wall of its cap.

A beloved international celebrity, the morel is a very lucrative crop that is heavily exported. As a result, the quantity and quality of morels harvested in Pacific coast burn sites are often a concern for many of us living in the east. 

The link between ash and morels is well documented.  Frequently, morels will pop up beside anything that has burned in the past, for example, old camp fires.

In 2006, media coverage of a “morel operation” in Québec inspired many amateur “gold hunters” to comb the boreal forest in search of mushroom fortune.

Five years later, the debate as to whether or not this is a viable venture persists.   

The summer of 2010 proved to be the perfect time to find out the facts. Fires of epic proportions ravaged forests in the Mauricie region, approaching the Attikamewk village of Wemotaci. A local entrepreneur by the name of Danny Chilton took the initiative to organise a business venture. Sixty villagers received preliminary training, equipment was purchased, an artisanal dehydrator was built and potential clients were approached. Objective: hundreds and hundreds of kilograms, even tonnes, of morels. 

Mycoboutique sent along our own experts to witness and participate. 

The morels first made their appearance in the beginning of June 2011. As expected, finding them was difficult and many mosquito bites were suffered. The end result was dissapointing: a couple dozen kilos of dirty, sandy and larvae infested specimens. It was only possible to carefully sort, clean and sell 5 kg. 

Examinations of the harvested specimens indicate that they are the same fire morel of the Pacific. Fortune has once again vanished in smoke, but we will continue to bring you the best our forests have to offer.   

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