News / Calgary

Fort McMurray gardening enthusiast plans hunt for morel mushrooms

A scientist said the growth of morel mushrooms is spurred by an increase of nitrate

Jon Tupper and his three-year-old daughter Lillian inspect their indoor garden earlier this month, in anticipation of taking their green-thumbs outside when weather permits.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Jon Tupper and his three-year-old daughter Lillian inspect their indoor garden earlier this month, in anticipation of taking their green-thumbs outside when weather permits.

One year ago Fort McMurray resident Jon Tupper watched from his backyard as a fire that would soon be dubbed The Beast began to devour the surrounding Boreal Forest. 

A few weeks ago Tupper stepped into his yard again with his three-year-old daughter and breathed a sigh of relief. 

“I had that moment where it was nice out and I went out there with my daughter, cracked a beer, and for the first time in almost a year I felt peace,” he said. 

Tupper, and avid gardener said he felt robbed of a summer last year after the fire destroyed any chances of flourishing gardens or crops in the area. 

“We came to what we knew to be a beautiful forest and it’s all burnt down and that hurts your soul a little bit,” he said. “And then none of our own plants survived either.” 

Tupper said he was able to recover a few plants, but gardening came second to fire cleanup. 

“You’re so busy dealing with insurance and trying to get the smoke smell out of your house that you don’t have a moment of pleasure to just be in the outdoors and enjoy it,” he said. 

Tupper plans on taking full advantage of the growing and gardening season this year. He said he’s most looking forward to growing corn—that failed to produce last year—in his south facing yard, and digging in the dirt with his daughter. 

Although much was destroyed in the fire, new life has also risen from the ashes in the form of morel mushrooms. 

“They tend to really thrive after a fire,” he said, adding that he and dozens of others from a Fort Mac gardening enthusiast group on Facebook plan to harvest the mushrooms from the forest floor as soon as the weather permits. 

According to Dr. Edward Johnson, director of the biogeoscience institute at the University of Calgary, morel mushrooms are known to flourish in the year following a fire. 

“The reason is somewhat unclear, but evidence seems to point to the fact that the spores, for whatever reason, these fungi and parts of the plants themselves are stimulated by increase in nitrate after the fire and that spurs a lot of plants to grow because they think ‘ah-ha, there must be nothing above me now.’”

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