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It’s not what you think. Fall rains bring mushrooms, and MPG Ranch is no exception. For weeks now we’ve conducted our research in the rain, and along the way we’ve collected shaggy parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) and oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) mushrooms. The parasols grow up Whaley Draw, while the oysters are found in bounty on the northern flood plain, where they grow out of the dead cottonwood trees they are programmed to decompose. Yesterday we stumbled upon a cluster of bluish mushrooms in the understory at Davis Creek, and for a split second we thought we had found the highly sought after blue chanterelle (Polyozellus multiplex). After a quick peek at the guide book, however, it turns out we most likely had stumbled upon a pig’s ear (Gomphus clavatus), another edible mushroom that some consider “choice.”

Mushoom Photo- Jeff Clarke

A misidentification of mushrooms can be deadly, so caution is warranted when picking. When properly identified, however, wild mushrooms are a treat -- you will never go back to the store-bought, white-button mushrooms. We cook our parasols and oysters with butter, cream and salt to make a sauce to go with elk steak. Another option is to simply lay the delicious mixture on a piece of bread and bake it in the oven with some parmesan cheese on top. Water cress leaves, picked from one of our many creeks on the ranch, is a beautiful finish.

Pig’s ears and white-rot fungi. It’s amazing how these great tasting mushrooms have such unfortunate names!

About the Author

Ylva Lekberg

Ylva graduated from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences with a M.Sc. in Biology and Horticulture in 1996 and a Ph.D. in Ecology from Penn State University in 2004. She received the Alumni Association Dissertation Award for her work in agroecology and subsistence farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Post-doctoral positions at Montana State University and later at Copenhagen University as a Marie Curie Fellow allowed her to explore the role of arbuscular mycorrhiza, a root-fungus symbiosis, for geothermal plants in Yellowstone National Park and coastal grasslands in Denmark. Her research has been published in international journals such as Nature Communications, Ecology Letters, and New Phytologist.

Ylva joined MPG Ranch in 2010. Since then, she has explored how invasive plants common to western Montana, including spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe), leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) and cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), influence soil microbial community composition and function, and how this in turn may affect invasive success. A lot of her research also focuses on the AM symbiosis in terms of community ecology and physiology. A current project addresses how exchange ratios in this symbiosis may differ among co-occurring plants and depend on soil nutrient availabilities. She uses surveys, field and greenhouse experiments, and literature approaches such as meta-analyses to address questions. To learn more about research and publications from Ylva and her group, see CV below and the Soils, Plants and Invasion section.

In addition to her work at MPG Ranch, Ylva is an adjunct professor at University of Montana at the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences.