May Field Journal

When Bill and I purchased the West 40 unit in 2001 I found a small patch of dwarf larkspur, Delphinium tricorne, under the shagbark hickory and oak tree canopy.  According to Wilhlem and Rericha’s Flora of the Chicago Region this is a rare species highly intolerant of disturbance and found only in a high quality natural communities. The sparsely-leaved flowering stalk is topped by a terminal spire containing 6-14 blue-violet spurred flowers.  In 2001 we began restoration of this unit with prescribed burns.  After three burns we thinned the overstocked woodland.  Since then we have continued annual prescribed burns.  Now this lovely plant has spread throughout the
West 40.

The 2020 morel season was disappointing.  I expected an excellent season because we had snow in both March and April.  (A bountiful morel harvest usually follows March and April snow events.)  But after harvesting thirty specimens between April 8-28 I found only one more on May 7.  It was an older specimen, probably one we missed in April. I had anticipated collecting at least one hundred specimens this year.  But the cold, dry weather that followed our April harvest put an end to morel fruiting. Our last morel foray was to the West Creek unit where we searched all the mayapple stands, dead elms and oak sprouts. We were skunked! All we found was a wild turkey nest with five eggs. 

Mushrooms aren’t the wild food we collect at Timberhill.  Stinging nettle shoots which are abundant  along in the Brush Creek bottom are a delicious cooked green.   Wearing gloves I harvest the young shoots when they are about one foot tall.  In the kitchen (still wearing gloves) I strip the leaves from the tough stalks and boil them for 8 minutes.  Cooking removes the sting. I prefer nettles sautéed in garlic and olive oil or tossed with butter.  Or you can cut up raw nettle leaves into soups and stews.  Boiling  the young shoots or leaves also makes a nourishing tea which contains vitamins A and C as well as iron and protein.  

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