Morel season is every mushroom hunter’s favorite time of year. If you’re new to foraging wild mushrooms, perhaps you’re hoping to find some of these spring beauties yourself. But where should you start looking for them? How do you identify them and tell them apart from inedible mushrooms that look similar? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about where to find morel mushrooms.
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Where is the Best Place to Find Morels?
Morels are one of the most popular types of mushrooms for foraging, but you have to know where to look for them.
You are most likely to find morels growing in forest or wooded areas, especially near dead or dying trees. You may also find them growing near ferns and fiddleheads.
Morels are most likely to grow from loose, loamy soil. Any area with disturbed soil, lots of organic matter, plenty of shade, and abundant moisture will be a good place to start.
You might want to check south-facing slopes early on in the season, moving to north-facing slopes as the weather warms up. Morels do best when soil temperatures are around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and air temperatures are between 50 and 60 degrees.
Morels often spring up near creeks or streams and in flood plains. Areas that have recently flooded are especially good spots to check because of the moisture and the potential that mushroom spores were carried to that spot by the floodwaters.
You may also want to check areas where there was a forest fire or a smaller burn area, especially a year or two after the event. The death and decay of burned trees along with moisture left over from attempts to put out the fire produce ideal conditions for morels to grow.
Lastly, areas where trees have been felled or thinned in the previous year or two also make for prime morel conditions. Since these mushrooms thrive around dead and dying trees, these areas provide excellent breeding grounds for morels to grow and spread.
Can You Find Morels Anywhere?
Judging by the above section, it may seem like morels grow in a lot of different places. That may be true, but it’s also a little bit misleading.
You cannot find morels just anywhere; they only grow in certain conditions at certain times of the year. And they can be a little tricky to find.
If you find a patch of morels one year, you’ll probably find them in the same place next year, but they don’t necessarily spread as quickly or proficiently as other types of mushrooms. Just because conditions are good for morels to grow in a particular spot, that doesn’t mean they will actually be growing there.
For this reason, morels can be hard to find, and you have to know where to look for them. The best place to start is always where you have found them growing in past years.
What Elevation Do Morels Grow At?
Morels have been found growing at a variety of elevations, anywhere between 400 and 5,000 feet.
However, the best elevation range for morel proliferation seems to be 400-600 feet above sea level. The conditions are ideal for spawning and spreading in this “sweet spot” because the average amounts of rain provide adequate moisture, temperatures are mild without being extreme, and wind conditions are tolerable.
What Trees Do Morels Grow By?
As noted above, morels thrive near dead or dying trees. But what are some of their favorite trees for growing under?
Morels seem to have a preference for certain deciduous hardwood trees, especially oak, elm, tulip poplar, cottonwood, maple, sycamore, and ash. Occasionally, they will also grow near evergreens, such as in conifer forests that have experienced recent forest fires.
Morels don’t grow from the trees themselves but from the ground surrounding the trees. As the trees and their roots decompose, they add nutrients to the soil that make it an ideal spot for morels to grow.
What is the Best Time of Year to Find Morel Mushrooms?
Morels have a pretty short season no matter where they grow. While they may make a second appearance during the fall if conditions are ideal, the best time to find them growing widely is during the spring.
The first morels will likely make an appearance sometime between late March and early May depending on your specific region. It may take some practice to learn when they are most likely to appear in your area.
A good rule of thumb is to begin hunting for morels when you notice dandelions beginning to flower, or when ferns begin making an appearance in the spring.
How to Identify Morels?
According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there are several varieties of morel mushrooms, each with a slightly different color pattern.
Regardless of the color, morels are highly recognizable mushrooms. Some common identifiers include the narrow, wrinkled, pitted caps and hollow stems.
The cap of the morel is typically attached to the stem rather than free-hanging.
If in doubt about whether your mushroom is a morel or not, slice it open. True morels should have a free, hollow cavity from the tip of the cap to the base of the stem.
Let’s take a closer look at some specific varieties of morel:
- Black morels: Mushrooms in this group should have dark-colored caps ranging from black to dark gray to dark purplish. Black morels are typically some of the earliest to appear in the spring.
- White or gray morels: These morel varieties have lighter colored caps ranging from white to beige to pale gray. They are some of the easiest to identify as true morels because they have a classic look and color, and they typically appear toward the end of the season.
- Yellow morels: Morels of this variety come in many shades, but all have a yellowish tint to them. They also tend to appear later on in the season.
- Half-free morels: These mushrooms have caps that are partially detached from the stem, giving the cap a skirt-like appearance. They usually appear toward the middle of morel season, and though they are edible, they can be tricky to identify because they have a similar appearance with non-edible mushroom varieties.
Morels Vs. False Morels: How to Tell the Difference
There are several inedible mushroom varieties that look similar to morels; for this reason, they are known by the blanket term “false morels.”
False morels in the gyromitra genus, known commonly as beefsteak mushrooms, have a bubbly or brainlike cap appearance and may be more reddish or bluish in color than true morels.
Beefsteaks don’t have the classic conical shape of true morels. If you cut one open down the center, it may have air pockets but will not be hollow all the way through.
There are a couple of false morels in the verpa genus, and these are a bit easier to confuse. They look very similar to true morels but have a significant difference: their caps do not attach to the stems but are completely free-hanging.
Verpa mushrooms also tend to sprout sooner than true morels. That’s one reason why it’s so important to know when morels grow in your area.
Morels are typically very easy to identify, but if you haven’t collected them before, it might be good to go with someone who knows what they look like and where to find them–someone who can point out the false morels and help you learn to avoid them.
If you’re planning to go it alone, though, first check out the following two videos about how to properly identify morels and tell them apart from false morels.
Morels are pretty easy to identify, though they do have a few inedible look-alikes, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for when foraging for any wild mushrooms.
Morels are typically found in spring near dead or decaying trees, in wooded areas, near streams or flood plains, or any area with loamy soil and plenty of shade and moisture.