116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The tree formerly known as the unkillable elm finally died, and my friend Arthur Clark and I were the chief beneficiaries of its last will and testament.
After a morel crop failure in the cold, dry spring of 2021, Arthur and I were especially pleased to collect 290 fresh mushrooms beneath it on Wednesday morning.
For decades we had admired the giant tree and marveled at its ability to withstand the Dutch elm disease that had wiped out its contemporaries in the 1950s and 1960s.
Each spring we would conduct a welfare check during our morel forays and speculate about the tree’s capacity to produce mushrooms if and when it ever died.
Morel hunters like dead elms because the tree’s roots and the underground morel mycelium enjoy a symbiotic relationship. When the elm dies, the mycelium loses its food source and responds by deploying the spore-laden fruit in an effort to relocate.
Of course morel mycelium do not inhabit the roots of all elm trees, which means that some dead elms — perhaps most — never produce.
However, when a dead elm does produce, a rule of thumb is that the bigger the tree, the bigger its root network, the greater the potential for a massive fruiting. Another rule of thumb is elms on slopes outperform those on level ground.
This tree, on a long, gentle, south-facing slope, had it all.
So when we observed from a distance that the giant elm had died, we were cautiously optimistic.
The two of us having split up to cover more ground, I arrived at the huge tree first and instantly noticed a pair of fresh mushrooms at its base. Given that our cumulative total for our first three outings was just three mushrooms, I immediately reported the find to Arthur, who said he would hasten to the spot.
After an additional 20 seconds’ reconnaissance, I called Arthur again. He said he knew what I was going to say — that they were big, fresh, obvious and everywhere.
It was one of those rare deals where you could pick a dozen mushrooms without moving your feet and could have picked another dozen if only your hands were not already full.
Despite our admonishments to take care, we could not help stepping on some of them.
The dense part of the patch extended at least 15 yards west of the base of the tree and at least 20 yards to the north. They were fewer and farther apart to the east and south.
We picked for about an hour in the muggy 89-degree heat, with intermittent breaks to sit our sweat-soaked, rapidly dehydrating selves on a nearby log.
After counting them as I deposited the mushrooms into our mesh bags, I reported the 290 total and asked Arthur if he would care to go for a nice round 300.
We both agreed we would prefer a cold drink of water to 10 more mushrooms.