Morel Mushroom Hunting
- 14 Apr, 2021
It’s spring! This means turkeys, fishing, and… a pan full of butter and morel mushrooms! If you don’t already seek out these delicious fungi in the springtime, it’s time to start. Even if mushroom hunting isn’t your primary goal when spending time in the woods in the spring, it can be beneficial to keep an eye out for ‘shrooms when partaking in other activities. The biggest motherlode of morels I have ever encountered was found when I was bowfishing for carp with some friends. We spotted a few mushrooms, then more… and pretty soon the carp pursuit was briefly forgotten and we returned with a couple baseball hats of mushrooms. We fried them in a pan with butter, bacon and crumbled up White Cheddar Cheez-Its for a delicious appetizer.
Your best chance for finding morels is to look in the place you found them last year. Even this is not a guarantee, and there are still many research questions and hypotheses to determining optimal conditions for the fungus to produce the above ground fruiting body structure that we eat. It’s great to have a honey hole for shrooms, but expanding your search to new areas over time will be even more beneficial.
Places where the environment has weathered some kind of disturbance, such as a forestry cut or a burn, are great for finding morels. While the exact mechanisms are not fully known, researchers hypothesize that the relationship between the fungus and the trees’ root systems that the fungus uses for nutrients undergoes a change when disturbance occurs. This can trigger the fungus, which lives underground, to produce an above-ground fruiting body to help spread spores and reproduce.
Along the same lines of cuts and burns is searching for mushrooms around dead trees. Sections of forest that have sustained damage from insects like beetles or from major storms can also trigger mushroom growth.
Look around specific tree species
Regionally, mushroom hunters often notice a relationship between certain tree species and morels. These associations can differ regionally, so taking some time to learn common trees that support morel growth in your area can help. When you find morels, take note of the tree species in the area and over time you might develop some observations of your own. Sycamores, yellow poplar, elm and ash trees are known as good species to focus on for mushroom hunting. In many areas of the country, elm and ash trees sustain major die offs from insects, which also produce disturbance.
A well-known place to search for morels in is old apple orchards or places where apple trees have been removed. Overgrown old orchards at homesteads can produce lots of mushrooms!
Go at the right time
Peak morel season differs from place to place. You’ll want optimal soil temperature (between 50 and 60 degrees) and moisture for morels to pop. If a good looking spot is devoid of mushrooms, come back the next week and check again in case conditions weren’t quite right yet.
Aspect and soil type
In a given area, morels will commonly emerge on south-facing slopes first. As the season progresses and the shadier sides of hills warm up, you’ll be able to find them on those slopes. Morels thrive in sandy soil, especially sandy soil that has undergone disturbance. A great place to look is islands or river bottoms that frequently flood with nutrients and water.
Finding morels is a competitive, fun activity that just about anyone can try. Use these tips to help focus in on areas where you will have a higher likelihood of finding these mushrooms! When harvesting mushrooms, there are a few things to keep in mind. False morels can make you sick. They look like morels but are not hollow inside like true morel mushrooms are. If you’re picking morels, leave part of the mushroom in the ground and pinch off the edible part with your finger. Some mushroom hunters carry their harvest in a mesh bag to allow the spores to disperse throughout the woods. Everyone has their favorite morel recipes, so a good Google deep dive will provide tons of inspiration for the best part of mushroom hunting: mushroom eating!
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