"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Woodpeckers, Pokeweed, Wild Asparagus and Big Foot Morels
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Scifres

In the last week, I have had the opportunity to observe -- close at hand -- pairs of hairy woodpeckers’ mate selection ritual. Coupled with similar observances of the downy two weeks earlier, the two cousins, and their selection ritualistic fluttering prove interesting.

There is no contact between male and female in the selection of either species, as I saw it. The activity seemed to be limited in the two species to flitting about (apparently by the females, and the males dutifully following). From limb-to-limb, tree-to-tree it went.

It all seemed rather “flirtish” with the two black and white beauties.

The male downy was often closer to the female than the male hairy but it was much the same game. The part of the rituals that were really impressive for birders, was the male of the two species in their most elaborate suits. The red spot on the heads of males of both species would have rivaled fire trucks, and the patches of white screamed for attention against their black backgrounds. Actually, I think the hairy males were a bit gaudier than their downy counterparts.

Both species will go to tree nests nest holes a little later, probably in excavated holes drilled for nesting purposes.

POKEWEED, ASPARAGUS -- Pokeweed and wild asparagus are starting to send their spears out of the earth now,  so stay tuned to greens activity for some good eating.

It is said, that poke is poisonous, but I -- like thousands of other Hoosiers -- have been consuming the tender shoots (six inches high) for many years. It probably is true that the roots and berries (and possibly older leaves) are poisonous. But woodsy folks of Arkansas fry the pith from tall stalks as a delicacy. Trim away the outside (bark) of the stalks and slice the pith like carrot rings.

I parboil the six-inch shoots in two or three fresh waters, then dip them in milk-egg mix and roll them in flour-cracker meal mix before frying to brown. Young and tender leaves will stand alone as greens dish, or they can be combined with other greens.

BIG FOOT MORELS -- Last week’s rain appears to have spawned one of the best crops of Morchella esculenta (Big Foot) I have seen in several years. Big foot gets this common name from the fact that the stem is larger than other morels--often more than two inches wide, wrinkled, and hollow. Caps are conventional, but big.

If stems are cut crosswise an inch above the earth, they will be hollow, like other morels. But it also may be made up of two or more compartments.

I once counted 87 as I picked the monsters in a five gallon bucket and two plastic bags on Mother’s Day only 50 yards from a spot that produced 56 this year.

The big foot is a very delicious morel. You will recall that last week’s rain lasted several days in cool air temperatures.

They are mostly over the hill in central counties now, but still fruiting in the northern tier counties.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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