Why Hunt Morel Mushrooms?
Foraging for morel mushrooms is an annual spring activity enjoyed by millions of people. It’s so popular because morels are the easiest mushroom to identify, and they have excellent flavor and texture.
Morels are easy to identify because of their distinctive appearance; and because they’re entirely hollow (see the picture of one split). The only other mushroom that looks similar to a morel has a cap (and should not be eaten) rather than being entirely hollow inside.
Since morels are so distinctive in appearance, and it’s easy to verify that they’re truly morels (cut them in half and make sure they’re hollow) morel foragers can feel confident about picking and consuming these wild mushrooms.
Timing Is Everything for Spotting Morel Mushrooms
Morels don’t start showing up until daytime temperatures are in the 60’s and nighttime temperatures are in the 50’s. They appear on southerly slopes and in sunny spots before showing up on northern slopes or in the shade.
Natural indicators that it’s time to look for morels include lilacs budding, open mayapples, and flowering bloodroot, trillium, dandelion, and columbine.
Morels often emerge after a warm spring rain when temperatures are right, and that’s an excellent time to go hunting for them.
You can track the progression of morel sightings from South to North each year by clicking here.
Where To Find Them
Morel mushrooms have been found nearly everywhere outdoors but the following locations are particularly good places to look for them:
- Near dead or dying trees – especially dead or dying elm and ash trees. Old apple and peach orchards are also good.
- At the base of slopes with mossy ground or heavy ground cover.
- In river or stream bottoms where the soil is sandy.
- At the edge of woods or fields, and around tree stumps.
They are almost always found in locations where the sun is hitting the ground.
There are three main types of morels that appear each spring – black morels, white morels, and giant morels. The blacks appear first and can usually be found for about 10 – 14 days. The whites appear about a week after the blacks and the giants again about a week after the whites.
Good places to look for blacks include hardwood forests, apple orchards, and along roadsides. The whites are usually found in moister conditions near streams, lakes, dead or dying elm trees, and apple orchards. The giants prefer richer soil and warmer climates.
How You Search Is Important
Most successful morel foragers recommend walking slowly and looking about 10 feet ahead to spot morels. Many also suggest that most of your time should be spent looking rather than walking and that using a hiking stick to flip over fallen leaves, pieces of bark, and mayapple leaves will greatly increase success rates.
Morels can be very difficult to spot – they seem to have an amazing ability to hide in plain sight. However, once you find one, be sure to look around the immediate area carefully. Where there’s one there are usually more!
Even very a very large morel like the one in the photo below can be difficult to spot; however, as you gain experience spotting them it seems to get easier.
How To Harvest & Transport Them
It’s best to use a sharp knife to cut the morels off just above the ground to harvest them. Don’t disturb the mushroom “roots” by trying to pull them from the ground, cut them instead so that mushrooms will continue to grow in the future.
You should always use a mesh bag to collect and transport any mushrooms you find. This lets the mushrooms breathe and it also spreads the spores throughout the fields and woods as you move about. You literally “reseed” mushroom spores so other morel mushroom crops can be harvested in the future.