Thursday, April 15, 2010

First Morels of Spring

For mushroom hunting fanatics such as myself, there is nothing that comes close to the excitement and anticipation of finding the first morels of Spring. After the drought of mushrooms over winter and waiting patiently for warmer weather to arrive, one tends to dream of morels, building the excitement for that first morel find of the season.

The season can start quite early in California with the first appearance of landscaping morels which appear in beds that have been covered by beauty bark, as early as January/February. Around mid March, the first morels appear in the woods of Georgia and then start to work their way north and west with appearances in Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and then heading north to Missouri, Kansas etc. By early April, Oregon is finding their first morels and by early May most of the country will be finding morels from Michigan to Montana.

Morel season is quite short in most locales and may only last a few short weeks. For those of us in the west who have access to areas that were burned by wildfires the previous summer, morels can be found prolifically if the conditions are right. In parts of Montana, Idaho and Washington, some burns can continue to produce from June well into October if they continue to get moisture and it doesn't get too hot.

As the season progresses, you will need to climb to higher elevations in the mountains to find them.

In the early season, the first morels to appear are associated with riparian areas and are referred to as Morchella esculenta which are larger and more of a yellow/brown morel. The smaller black morels in the mountains here don't appear until about May and the conditions and habitat are totally different. The elevation is higher, the trees are different and temperature again plays a big part in when they will fruit.

Morels need a ground temperature of 55 degrees to start fruiting. A good digital, probe thermometer is a good tool to carry with you when scouting new spots. In WA, ID, OR and CA you need to have a permit to pick mushrooms. You can get a personal use permit that will allow you to pick a certain quantity for your own personal use and some states will require you to cut them in half lengthwise to prevent the selling of mushrooms commercially without purchasing a commercial license. A commercial license will allow you to pick in areas specifically set aside for commercial use and to sell your mushrooms to a mushroom buyer. Personal use permits are free but don't get caught without one or your mushrooms will be confiscated. You can pick up a permit from your local forest service office or ranger station.

Yesterday Maggie the Wonder Dog and I took a ride to a spot that is known to produce morels this time of year and we managed to find enough for a meal. We also found one unusual morel growing on an old log that had been laying on the ground for years. How the mycelium got way up onto that log to allow this mushroom to fruit is beyond me but with morels, almost anything goes!