COLUMN: The hunt is on!

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     It’s that time! The time of the year when you can spot cars parked innocently along woodlots, backroads and ravines while the owner is nowhere to be seen. It’s morel mushroom hunting time!

     A common question I receive when the topic of morel mushrooms comes up is, “What is the best place to look for morel mushrooms?”

     Many people have heard the elusive morel mushroom can be found in woodlands near dead elm trees. Although this is true, the mighty morel mushroom can be found in many different habitats. A few places I have had particularly good luck is within the root reach of cottonwood, cedar, and apple trees. Old apple orchards and pastures can be great places to hunt morels.

     Morels like to receive a little light and are often found in woodland locations where the sun filters down and spotlights the forest floor. Morels are tough to spot; with their cryptic camouflage they disappear easily amongst the leaves and mottled sunlight.

     Start looking for morels as soon as the lilac leaves are about the size of a mouse’s ear, and continue through the middle of May. The peak of the morel mushroom harvest often occurs when lilac bushes are in full bloom. Timing can vary depending on the spring weather, temperature and moisture. Morels seem to grow best when night temperatures are in the 40s and day temps are in the 60s to lower 70s.

     As with any mushroom, identification is essential! Never eat a mushroom if you are not 100 percent sure of the identity. True morel mushrooms are covered with distinctive ridging, are completely hollow, and have a cap that flows smoothly into the stem. These can be observed by cutting the morel in half vertically for a detailed inspection.

     Morel hunting is a yearly pilgrimage for many with morel mushroom hotspots that are keenly kept secret and handed down from generation to generation. Always remember to ask permission before entering private property in search of mushrooms.

     Once you identify, harvest, and take your morels home, make sure to clean and cook them completely before eating. Being hollow, and with the amount of ridging, morels can hide dirt, ants, and other insects. Soaking them in a bowl or sink of cold water with a little salt generally does the trick of evicting unwanted protein. Prepare using a favorite family recipe or simply sauté in butter. (As with trying any new food, only eat a little the first time you have morels.)

     Visit for information on morel mushroom identification.



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