Ooh baby, morel mushroom season is almost here.
Soon the woods with be filled with green plants and blooming lavender sweet William flowers highlighted by violets. Life in the woods will be reborn and so shall mushrooms pop up for you to find.
Remember all that moisture we endured this winter? That will be a big help in producing these tasty morels that don’t do well in extremely dry conditions or bone-dry ground.
My mother and I have hunted morel mushrooms 66 years, starting the day before my birth. We have learned a trick or two that I want to share:
• Adjust your eyes to identifying morel mushrooms. Some people actually study pictures of morel mushrooms every day before the hunting begins. Then your eyes are conditioned to locating these often hard to see morsels. Carry a walking stick to push away brush or foliage and, as my mother claims, sneaky snakes.
• Start looking for morels when the air/ground temperature reaches a constant 45-60 degrees, especially on southern slopes. Morels are temperature sensitive. The first morels of each season are small grays, and the bigger mushrooms will come along a week or two later. Morels have about a three-week growing season, so don’t miss your opportunity.
• Try looking after a warm spring rain when conditions are right.
• Look for morels in April when woodlot plants appear. Half-grown mayflowers are a good indicator of the required soil warmth when early morels start to pop up. Many experienced hunters search by dying elms. Sandy soil around creek bottoms are good areas to check.
• Dying elm trees are said to produce a rotting root system that feeds morels. You may not find morels in the same spot after the roots are rotted away. Don’t limit your search to only elms. Check unlikely areas. The darn things could pop up anywhere. Apple trees are possibilities because constantly rotting fruit can help produce morels. Look, too, around ash, aspen and oak trees.
• Areas with good leaf matting – typically under trees that drop their leaves and bark earlier in the fall and have longer to decay – consistently produce. Light-colored barked trees like birch, sycamore and cottonwoods are good examples while dying elm trees may only produce morels for a year or two.
• Early-season hunters should start by checking southern hillsides and creek bottoms open to sunlight that quickly warms the soil. Warming trends make eastern areas productive. Morels do not grow by the sun, lacking chlorophyll, the chemical that absorbs sunlight as energy to reproduce. Morels start popping up at dusk and grow through the night, but you will occasionally see one pop up during daylight hours.
• Northern spots are best when air temperatures heat up at the end of morel season. Dry springs seldom produce exceptional morel numbers. More grow when it is wet, but some will grow no matter what. You might still find morels in good numbers, but they may not grow as large.
• Burn areas can be good for morel growth. We have found many in freshly burned woodlots.
• Warning: Fortunately, only one toxic mushroom resembles a morel. Morels have a wrinkly cap and false mushrooms are not hollow like the versions you are looking for. Avoid these false mushrooms that can make you violently ill or even cause death.
• You will need a good pair of walking boots, light-colored clothing in case early ticks make an appearance, a mesh bag, a good walking stick and your best pair of eyes. Then walk slowly and search.
• Experienced hunters use mesh bags. They allow spores to release for future mushrooms. We use the same bag over and over, season after season, without washing. Spores that may create new morels come from the mushroom’s head. The ridge pattern of the bag helps release the spores. Some stay in the mesh and release later. Always cut or pinch morel mushrooms off at the bottom. Leaving the roots often helps produce new mushrooms when conditions are correct.
• Preparing morels is simple. Start by soaking morels in water for a couple of hours to clean them and wash out any bugs living inside the hollow mushrooms. Some people slice them in half lengthwise for a more thorough cleaning.
• Don’t forget to spray for ticks. You may not find mushrooms, but the ticks will likely find you. Make sure you do a good tick check all over your body at day’s end.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.