Chasing morels in Michigan’s woods

Wild morels via WCMU

Wild morels via WCMU

With most hunting seasons winding down (save for turkey) and the best fishing of the year still a few weeks off, mid-April and the first weeks of May leave many Michigan sportsmen with little to chase in woods– save for delicious morel mushrooms.

What are morels?

The subject of morels has long been a popular one here on the forums. These distinctive puffball looking wild mushrooms with their honeycomb texture occur throughout the state and, while the flavor is an acquired one for those who are used to store-bought white caps, is widely considered delectable. First to sprout each spring is the black variety followed by the white ones as the temperature rises.

How to find them

Like any mold spore, wild morels are found whenever moist, warm soil is readily available. The soil has to stay above 53 degrees for their spores to sprout, so watch the forecast for long periods of springtime weather in which the temperatures stay above this for a few days in a row. A rule of thumb for those who seek these out is wherever you find mosquitoes in the spring; you will find morels growing provided you look hard enough. Dead trees, falls, and areas thick with ash all have better than average success.

Famous Michigan morel master Larry Lonik, author of at least one guide to the mushrooms that is available on Amazon, advocated a slow, crouching walk through the woods, scanning from side to side with your head, as it was hard to pick the mushrooms out with peripheral vison.

The Michigan state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has long allowed the taking of morels on public land— just be careful of spoiling turkey hunters this time of year.

New growth areas that are regenerating after a wildfire are often believed to have greater than average supplies of wild mushrooms due to the nutrient dump into the blackened earth. Therefore, DNR has put out a 17-page guide to all of the wildfires on public land that were greater than 10 acres that occurred in 2014 for the benefit of ‘shroom chasers.

When picking, pinch them off on the stem close to the earth and refrain from using plastic bags to hold, store or collect them in. Instead, stick to baskets or mesh gear bags that can breathe and then store them in paper bags.

Keep it safe

As noted by MSU, there are no less than 50 different varieties of mushrooms and toadstools in Michigan’s woods that are poisonous– often without a known antidote.

Last year at least eight people were hospitalized eating false morels. With that in mind, it is absolutely vital to be sure of what you are eating.

MSU’s guide has a few warnings that are worth repeating:

1. Never eat any mushroom unless you know what it is

2. Never eat raw mushrooms

3. Never eat old or decaying mushrooms.

4. Be careful the first time you eat a mushroom.

5. Any time you sample a new species, save a whole, uncooked specimen in your refrigerator to aid in identification in case you should get sick.

6. Try new species one at a time

7. Do not overindulge.

8. Respect others. Do not force mushrooms on anyone else.

Finally, for more information just on morels there are a number of useful websites out there tracking these delicious native Michigan fungi.

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