Updated: May 20
As the ground begins to warm after winter months, morels can be found all over the eastern US and in the pacific northwest. Morels grow in temperate regions all over the world and have been prized for their flavor and texture, making morel cultivation a multimillion-dollar industry. These little beauties truly are like nuggets of gold if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon some.
I am by no means a professional forager or mycologist. However, after having accidentally stumbled upon a flush of Morel mushrooms while out in the woods, and then spending the next 4 days scouring said woods for more, I have made some observations about these hard to find mushrooms that you may find helpful on your own Morel scavenger hunt.
1.) If you are fortunate enough to come upon a Morel, STOP! These mushrooms always seem to travel in packs, and whenever I see one, there are most assuredly more hiding nearby. In the moments following my discovery, it was exceptionally frustrating to also discover I had trampled multiple Morels in my exuberance to get to the first. This is a painful lesson to learn with Morels, but hopefully, one that can be avoided. Move very slowly and deliberately and watch where you place every step.
2.) Most mushrooms have a large, round, domed cap atop a narrower stem. This is the profile we are largely accustomed to seeing, and one that lends itself to easy spotting in nature. However, unlike traditional mushrooms, the Morel's natural shape and surface texture afford them the rare talent of being able to disappear almost entirely into the thick forest underbrush. In fact, Morels are so good at hiding that some hunting camo has actually been designed and patterned to duplicate the Morel camouflage effect.
The chaotic lines of the mushroom cap, along with the unique shadowing/lighting properties of Morels creates a "dappling" illusion to the eye which makes it hard to distinguish where the mushroom ends and the mess of leaves and nature around it begins. This is especially true when viewed from a top-down perspective. Because of this, I find it is best to change your perspective with regard to the forest floor. Bend over, get on your hands and knees and crawl, lie down if necessary, whatever you have to do see the forest floor from different angles. While Morels are nigh impossible to spot from above, their unique shape always betrays them from the side.
3.) Carry a walking stick or tool you can use to move tall grass and other shrubs away. Morels are often lurking amongst, or in the shade of, bunches of greens. Having a long stick allows you to check the grass/weeds ahead of you before stepping, thus preventing accidental trampling. I found that a shorter implement encouraged me to lean over and look more closely. It can be tough on your back but these buggers can be hard to spot!
4.) While I did find many Morels in random locations that seemed to defy logic (growing from the moss beds on rocks, along game trails, etc.), I did notice a distinct pattern that emerged regarding Morel location. While not 100% successful, I do feel the following observation allowed me to predict with a much higher degree of accuracy where I could find more Morels.
Morels like dying/dead wood. In Kentucky, it seems like Oak, Elm, and Ash are their favorites. We found nearly ALL of our mushrooms on an East facing slope that falls into a creek below. And many of those were found alongside dead specimens of the aforementioned trees. Furthermore, when I located a downed Oak/Elm/Ash which had fallen toward the creek, I noticed the vast majority of Morels would be growing in the shadow to the Northside of the tree. Even if the dead tree hadn't yet fallen but much of its bark had, the rule still applied. Consistently in these circumstances, I would find the Morels growing in East/West running bands to the North of the tree. This seemed to coincide with the path the shadow of the tree had recently been following.
That concludes my notes for hunting and locating these delectable morsels. Stay tuned for next week’s Morel installment, where I’ll review the different cleaning and preservation methods that I tried, and share my thoughts on each.
If you have any of your own tips and stories to share, leave a comment below. We'd love to compare notes!