Date: April 8, 2017
On November 4, 2016, a wildfire started in the Nantahala Gorge near the Ferebee Picnic Area. The Tellico wildfire from the south, which started in late October, eventually merged with the Ferebee wildfire resulting in a 13,456 acre burned area. The wildfire was controlled in mid- November. In the western US wildfires often result in increases in Morchella and Pyronema species in the year after the burn. Twenty-two members of the Asheville Mushroom club visited the Nantahala Gorge on April 8, 2017 to examine the area primarily searching for morels.
The Nantahala Gorge is a steep incised gorge underlain by marble, talc, limestone, and soapstone. The gorge wildfire occurred on the north-facing slopes ranging from 2000 to 3400 feet. The site is about 82 miles west of Asheville (figure 1). Plant communities within the gorge include acidic cove forest, rich cove forest, and steep rock outcrops.
Figure 1. Nantahala Gorge in the Nantahala National Forests in surrounding landscape and distance from Asheville.
The spring weather was quite pleasant from the cool morning of the mid 40’s reaching the low 70’s later in the day. Foray participants were separated into three groups and searched either the area south of the picnic area, an area west about 1.5 miles west of the picnic area off Winding Stairs Road, and an area about 1 mile east of the picnic area (figure 2). The first two searched areas were relatively gentle in terrain and included both burned and unburned portions. The other area was quite steep, greater than 50% slope, and was almost entirely burned in the 2016 wildfire. Approximately 2 to 2 and ½ hours were spent by the participants within the three separate areas.
Figure 2. Three separate areas (hashed lines) surveyed for morels and other mushrooms.
Morels were located during the foray, however there was no difference observed in the burned and unburned sites. A total of 25 morels were located. All were yellow morels, Morchella esculenta. Morels were located at all three sites with 13 in the burned portion of the area, the other 12 not affected by the wildfire (figure 3). Two morels were located adjacent to the parking lot by the picnic area. In addition fourteen other fungi were observed. One ascomycete, an Anthracobia species, is typically only located after a fire (figure 4).
Figure 3. Largest morels located
Figure 4. Fire Fungus