|Elfin Saddle with covered compost pit in background.|
|A clump of Elfin Saddles, one with a stem showing.|
It was an Elfin Saddle (Helvella lacunosa). It's also known as a Slate Gray or Fluted Black Elfin Saddle. It was obviously old by mushroom standards. The black irregular cap was intact, but the stem had holes and was bending over. Elfin Saddles are usually solitary. When I looked nearby I found two more.
|The large mass at the side shows a stem that has collapsed.|
They are often found in disturbed ground (like my compost pit). They are common in Europe, eastern and northern North America, and along the west coast. The caps can be white to blackish gray with a folded, convoluted shape (kind of like bear poo at first glace). The stem is very distinctive with long, grooved ribs and holes indenting the surface.
|Another specimen in a nearby thicket, also old and collapsed.|
They appear in fall after heavy rains. October for us was extremely wet with many downpours. They prefer Douglas fir forests or areas of older brush. Mine were at the edge of the forest.
|A closeup of the stem showing ribs and holes.|
References say it is edible, but only young specimens and if cooked. Older ones can have poisonous properties. Caution is also given to be careful in identification because it can be confused with other poisonous varieties.
Here is a video by Richard Powell discovering a patch of Elfin Saddles on Vancouver Island. He's an amateur mycologist (he studies fungi) and has a very interesting blog called 100 Mushrooms on Vancouver Island. In addition to pictures, he includes lots of videos.
And here's an interesting tale about a mushroom hunt involving Elfin Saddles (Helvellas) by Anna at Crazy about Mushrooms. -- Margy
References: The Savory Wild Mushroom by Margaret McKenny and revised by Daniel E. Stuntz (University of Washington Press, 1971), and www.MushroomExpert.com (online).