Where to Find Morels
Morel mushrooms have been found in all 50 states of our country. While they can appear anywhere in limited quantities, the Midwest is where they tend to be most prevalent. (And yes, I am ignoring the whole western side of the country.) Out west there are large commercial industries dedicated to harvesting morels that appear in burnsites. Hundreds or thousands of foragers scour these burned out areas after the massive forest fires from the previous year. As a Midwesterner, I almost see that as cheating, and surely not real morel hunting. Our Midwestern morels do not seem to prefer burned areas. You have to trek and toil for hours on end in order to secure your bounty in the Midwest. But that is where the fun is. If you are looking for the "mecca" of morels, turn your eyes towards the state of Michigan. Michigan has significant quantities of public lands that are open for hunting, but morels are found in large numbers in every state in the Midwest.
|Ash Tree Bark|
|Elm Tree Bark|
|Tulip Poplar Bark|
Where to Start?
There are really two types of morel hunters out there. Hunters that scan the ground looking for mushrooms and hunters that scan the forest looking for trees. Morels tend to grow in association with certain types of trees, so the best mushroom hunters tend to look for those trees rather than mushrooms as they are going through the woods.
First, Observe the Landscape
We hail from Southern Indiana. While Northern Indiana is flat and full of cornfields, Southern Indiana is full of hills and valleys. Our morel season tends to be a bit longer than our flatland bretheren. Once the temperatures start to warm up, the sun begins to shine on the southern facing hills. These areas tend to fruit mushrooms first. Northern facing hills tend to take longer to begin producing morels because they do not get as much sunlight. So if you live in an area with elevation changes, be sure you are taking the landscape into consideration while you are out hunting.
The reason morels tend to fruit first on southern-facing slopes is that the sunlight allows the soil temperatures to rise to the fruiting temperatures of morels there first. 50 degrees F is a reasonable temperature that the soil must attain before you will start seeing many morels begin to fruit. A soil temperature map can be found here.
Certain trees also tend to like certain sides of hills. Oak trees tend to like lots of sunlight, so they tend to grow more on southern facing hills. Beech trees tend to be more shade tolerant, so they tend to be more common on northern slopes. Several target trees such as elm and sycamore prefer to grow in river/creek valleys. Some hunters spend much of their time hunting these species along creeks. Other hunters spend most of their time hunting ash and tulip poplar on hillsides or uplands. Morels can be found in both locations.
When you are learning about identifying tree species, also be sure to learn more about their ecology. It will help you significantly in the long run.
What Types of Trees?
There are two main types of trees that mushroom hunters look for - elm and ash. One way to think about hunting morels is as a numbers game. You want to spend most of your time hunting where you have the highest likelyhood of finding morels - and this will always be around certain trees. While morel mushrooms can be found many other places, the most mushrooms will be found the most often, under elm and ash. There are a couple of other morel producing trees that can be added to the list. These are Sycamore, Tulip Poplar, and Cottonwood.
If you are spending most of your time in Oak-Hickory woods, the odds are very slim that you will find many morels. Many people who never find morels spend most of their time searching in areas of woods where morels do not tend to grow. So the first order of business is to become good at identifying trees. The better you are at tree ID, the better you will be at finding morels.
Visit TreeBarkID.com for more information on Tree ID and more pictures of tree bark.
What does the science say about which trees to look at?
• Weber (1988) reported morels in Michigan as associated with oak-hickory
or beech-maple forests, or under sycamore, elm, ash, cottonwood, and apple trees.
• Kuo (2005) listed morels in the Eastern United States as associated with ash, elm, and tulip trees, and often found in old apple orchards.
• Thompson (1994) found morels with senescent or dying apple trees, justdead cottonwoods, and especially elms.
• Volk and others (1997) described morels fruiting with elm, ash, aspen, tulip poplar, and black cherry.
• Tiffany and others (1998) stated that most morels fruit near elms in Iowa and that black morels are rare and only found in upland oak forests on limestone outcroppings.
• Boom (1995) described morels in the Sierra Nevada range of California as “necrophiles of the alpine forest.”
• Stamets (2000) described immense crops of morels after the 1988 Yellowstone forest fires.
• Pilz and others (2004) reported morels fruiting disproportionately in recently burned or insect-infested true fir forests in eastern Oregon.
• McFarlane and others (2005) described morels fruiting most abundantly in burned true fir/spruce forests at higher elevations in Montana.
• Keefer (2005) found morels fruiting close to subalpine fir in forest that burned the previous summer in British Columbia.
• Winder (2006) cited Canadian herbarium data (Natural Resources Canada 2005) that indicate M. elata grows in association with domesticated or wild members of the Rosaceae such as apple, cherry laurel, and ocean spray.
Review by the US Forest Service.
Once the Tree is Found
Once you find the type of tree you are seeking, squat down about 6-10 feet away from the tree and scan the ground in search of your prize.
You never want to walk in a continuous circle looking for morels around the tree, as there will often be morels hidden under leaves or plants. If you are trampling the ground, then you are likely to trample the morels as well.
Patience is the key, especially early in the year. Even if there are morels around you, it may take a minute or two before your eyes are able to focus in on them and see what is around you. If you are continually up on your feet and walking through the woods, this will seriously decrease your chances of finding morels. Take it slower. Get down to the ground. Have patience.
Where Else Do Morels Grow?
• Weber (1988) described unusual habitats such as fields, dunes, landscaped areas, garbage dumps, abandoned coal mines, old mine tailings, cellars and basements, and along railroad tracks, but cautioned against eating morels from some of these habitats.
• Thompson (1994) made it clear that even though morels are common in riparian (river and stream) forests, they do not appear after heavy flooding.
• Hallen and others (2001) described morels fruiting away from trees in sand dunes and open meadows.
• Huffman and Tiffany (2001) mentioned road cuts, excavations, deer trails, orchards, and sand bars of rivers.
• Ramsbottom (1953) described morels fruiting in bomb craters, trenches, and the ashes of burned buildings after World War II.
• Kaul (1975) said morels fruit in bomb craters, areas where bonfires have burned, in limed soils, and soils where ashes have been spread.
• Carpenter and others (1987) and Stamets (1993, 2000) described large numbers of morels fruiting in the aftermath of the Mount St. Helens eruption, although the mushrooms were too gritty to clean and eat.
• Obst and Brown (2000) reported that 90 percent of morels found at their boreal forest study site fruited on the better drained hummocks of soil rather than in low-lying swampy areas.
• A construction worker observed morels growing where sheetrock had been allowed to disintegrate outdoors in winter rains.
• Several authors of this publication have observed morels fruiting in the footprints of previous morel hunters.
• Almost any morel hunter will tell you they find some morels where they are unexpected.
This list of other places morels appear was compiled by the US Forest Service.