WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
The hunt for elusive morel mushrooms is underway. With a bit of knowledge, and the willingness to walk slowly while scanning the forest floor, your gourmet reward of fantastic fungi might just be sizzling in a frying pan before the lilacs bloom.
Safety First: If you are not 100% certain you actually found a morel mushroom, don’t eat it. That is just common sense. A Facebook posting may not be the best way to make a positive identification. Morel mushrooms vary in size, color and sometimes shape. And of course never mix different kinds of mushrooms in your collection bag. Michigan State University Extension has identified at least 50 types of poisonous mushrooms found in Michigan, among them the false morels.
False morels can and do fool novice morel hunters, and at times, self-proclaimed pros. Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest: A Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms, by Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich, is an excellent beginner-friendly mushroom guide, with high quality photographs, detailed information on morels, false morels and other common mushrooms of the Midwest. However the best bet is to forage with someone who really knows our most sought-after wild mushrooms, and then hunt the morels in their company.
Morel mushrooms lure me to the woods every May. Usually, the lilacs of our county bloom the same time that morels emerge. Not so this year. Morels appear to be ahead of the lilacs this spring, a reminder that morels are unpredictable in where they grow from year to year, and when they emerge. A few years ago, I searched one of my secret morel habitats within the Ortonville State Recreation Area for two hours, without a single morel to be found. And then, a few minutes after getting home I noticed “something” at the edge of my lawn, within the shadow of my porch. The next morning those delicious morels were frying in butter, and then added to an omelet.
So where does one look? Anywhere, and everywhere in the woods might be the short answer. Many foragers guard their secrets fiercely, but morels seem to appear most often near trees that recently died, especially at the edge of fields. My “lawn morels” first emerged five years ago after an old apple tree came down in a windstorm. I have found morels in wood chip piles, under ash and elm trees, in a fallow field near fruit trees and even along the sunny edge of a local, very popular well-trodden trail. And if you find one morel, more are likely nearby.
Here’s a tip from Jim Fisher, the resource protection manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, “Morel mushrooms are often found in locations where large fires occurred the previous year.”
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has an interactive map, MI-Morels, to help identify possible morel locations due to sites of large fires and other factors.
Happy hunting and let me know your favorite way to prepare your morels in the comments!
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.