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Morel Mushroom Hunting

Two Morels on the Forest Floor

Gourmet Food for Free . . .

Pathfinder with a tiny morel.

Even a tiny morel helps your Pathfinder relive a joyous primal memory.

Our early ancestors survived by foraging for wild foods.  Many of us relive a deeply buried memory of that heritage when we experience the joy in successfully finding, and ultimately consuming, a gourmet wild edible.  In many parts of the world, morel mushrooms are considered a premier delicacy.

To find these mushrooms and to successfully return from the hunt requires the ability to understand macro- and micro-habitats, the ability to navigate safely in the forest and the ability to see through camouflage.  These are all  traits of good explorers.

The good eating that comes with a successful hunt is the prize that motivates many to explore for mushrooms.  The discovery of new places, terrain, and views comes with the adventure.  Whatever motivates you, mushroom hunting, and morel hunting in particular, is a great excuse to get out and explore.

Habitats and Behavior

In some places morels appear in old apple orchards and a variety of other habitats, but in the Oregon Cascade Mountains and much of the western United States, they appear in coniferous forests.  But not, as you might expect, in pristine forests.   To find  mushrooms you must have a basic understanding of their habitats and behavior.

First of all,  the mushroom itself is but a fruit of a much larger ‘tree’ made up of thousands of miles of tiny strands of underground mycelia.  In fact,  the largest living organism ever found  was a mushroom.  Not the individual fruit, but the normally unseen mycelia that arose from spores and spread through the soil over thousands of acres.

It is particularly interesting that, unlike plants,  mushrooms are sexual beings.  An individual spore can sprout and grow its mycelium, but it cannot reproduce until it comes into direct contact (unlike plants) and mates with a compatible mycelium.  Once mated, it can produce mushrooms we see and they, in turn, distribute spores to continue the process.  The mycelia typically produces mushrooms when it is stressed.  This is its effort to sustain the race by producing offspring.  The key to finding morels is understanding the stressors that lead to fruiting.

Successful morel hunters in the coniferous forests have long known to look in areas that had burned in the previous year.  Research suggests that morel mushrooms can live for awhile without a connection to a tree, but that they do better when they tap into tree rootlets to obtain nourishment and provide minerals to the tree.  This symbiotic relationship is beneficial to both the mushroom and the tree.  When the tree dies suddenly, like in a forest fire, the mushroom is stressed over the loss of its food supply and produces mushrooms in an effort to put spores in the air that can travel to more hospitable environments.  So,  burned over areas are good places to look for morels.

Morel Habitat

Exploring some less-than-pristine habitat in search of the elusive morel mushroom.

Timber harvest also kills trees and can have the same effect as a forest fire, as far as morel production goes.  In fact,  our adventure took us to an area  where the timber had recently been thinned.  There is a lot of thinning taking place in the forests of the western United States.  Commercial timber harvest has been significantly reduced over the last couple of decades leading to trees becoming crowded and the biomass levels rising to unprecedented levels.  In order to reduce the likelihood of extremely severe wildfires that can lay waste to entire forests, foresters have been removing some of the trees to reduce the level of biomass and increase the health of the trees that remain.  As a result,  morel hunters have a lot of places to look.

The relationship between morel fruiting and dead trees has been exploited by mushroom growers.  In 2005, Stewart C. Miller even patented a process for growing morels that involves inoculating tree seedlings with morel mycelium, allowing the mycelium to grow, then killing the seedlings to induce the morels to fruit. Read all about it in US Patent 6,907,691B2 (PDF – 186K).

Morels grow in the spring.  The snow must be gone and the soil must be warm enough and damp enough. Researchers developing techniques to farm morels have found that a  flood of water is necessary to induce fruiting.  It’s the melting snow that provides the water the wild mushrooms need.  Soil temperature is also important.  Morel metabolism doesn’t kick into gear until the weather warms a bit.  This is about the same time of the year as lilacs start to bloom.  As a result,  the first morels are typically found in lower, sunnier areas.   As the year progresses,  they can be found farther and farther up the mountains.

Micro-Habitats

Once in an area likely to have morels, you must begin to think about the micro-habitats that produce morels.  First,  morels sprout from the ground.  They do not grow in trees or from logs like many mushrooms.  Second, disturbed ground that provides evidence of damage to the morel mycelia generally produces more morels.  Third, slightly lower areas that held a bit more water from the melting snow seem to produce better.  Look for ruts in the ground caused by logging equipment.

Look in the most disturbed areas you can find – even around slash piles – as long as there are some needles and twigs over bare soil.  Then, look all around.  Sometimes morels pop up where you would not expect to see them.    Note that if you find one mushroom,  there are probably more, so focus more closely on the ground all around your find.

Two morels in their micro habitat.

Two morels in their micro habitat.

What does a morel look like? Morels are one of the easiest mushrooms to identify because they lack the traditional cap, gills (or pores) and stem of the more common mushrooms.  Review the photos here to get a good idea of their general appearance.

False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)Can it be confused with poisonous mushrooms? Yes, if you are not careful!  The photo to the right is a false morel known scientifically as Gyromitra esculenta.  We found it on the same day and in the same habitat where we picked the true morels shown elsewhere on this page.

According to Tom Volk a mycologist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, two to four percent of all mushroom poisonings are caused by this mushroom.  Some people eat it after repeatedly boiling it to remove the toxins, but I recommend that you avoid it.  It is clearly not the morel for which we are searching.

Besides the color, note how the texture is formed by wavy, folding ridges rather than by sharper ridges that enclose depressions or pits.  Verpa bohemica or the early morel is also a false morel and looks much more like a true morel than the Gyromitra species.

One way to be sure you have a morel is to look at the mushroom after you cut it half lengthwise.  The cap of a true morel is attached to the stem for its entire length.  The false morels have caps that are separate from the stem at the bottom so they look more like an actual cap sitting atop the stem.

Using Your Eyes and Nose

Morels are very good at camouflage.  Given that you are in a coniferous forest, you will find pine cones on the ground.  In an upright position,  these cones can appear nearly identical to a morel, especially in the subdued light of the forest.  Their coloring and texture allow morels to hide well among the dirt and needles of the forest floor.  This is especially true if you are looking in a burned area.

As you can see in the photos, these morels are quite dark and even have edges that appear burned.  I have had my eyes on a morel only to look up and then back down to be unable to find the mushroom.  Some people say they run and hide.  They certainly can be elusive.  A different perspective often helps.  The photos below show two views of the same mushroom.  From the top it’s a bit hard to discern; from a different angle it becomes more obvious.  Because of the difficulty in seeing morels and changing perspective, a picker following another picker can often find mushrooms the first picker missed.

One morel, two perspectives.

One morel, two perspectives.

Mushrooms have distinctive odors. If your nose is sensitive enough,  you can use it to find morels, or at least get you close enough to find them by sight.

Our Adventure

Our adventure began at the office of the Klamath Ranger District of the Fremont-Winema National Forests.  In the United States, the National Forests are public lands and anyone can forage for wild edibles in them for little to no cost.  As long as the edibles are for personal use.  If you plan to sell your mushrooms, you enter into the arena of commercial use and must purchase a permit.  We were at the Ranger Station to pick up our free-use permit.  Individuals can face a large fine if caught possessing mushrooms without one on the Deschutes, Umpqua, Willamette and Fremont-Winema National Forests of central and southern Oregon.

Other National Forests and other public lands have different rules.  For example,  the Rogue River National Forest allows possession of up to two gallons of mushrooms without a permit.  Our permit allowed each of us to pick up to 2 gallons of mushrooms per day for any ten days of the season.  In order to insure that the mushrooms are not being sold, there is also a requirement to cut them lengthwise and separate the halves.  The market for wild mushrooms wants only whole mushrooms, so this treatment insures they won’t be sold on the open market.

Two Morels

Two Morels

With our permits in hand, we set out on the search.  Our party included Pathfinder Jerry,  Chief Scout Trish, Chief Scout’s sis Tamera and her three kids – Nicholas (age 8), Annie (age 7) and Jayden (age 3).  Morels are a spring mushroom that appears as soil temperatures rise.  We had heard, that in early May they were starting to appear in the Rocky Point vicinity west of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

We searched several disturbed areas of the forest in the vicinity of Rocky Point.   Don’t expect a more detailed location – morel hunters rarely reveal such details.  Further,  if you arrive at a given location a week or two late,  you won’t see any mushrooms.  A terrific mushroom patch will be a disappointment if you are there when the mushrooms aren’t.

Mushroom patches also move from year to year.  While a burned area or timber harvest area might produce morels for a year or two, they soon stop producing and mushroom hunters must move on.  This adventure  simply requires some exploration on your own.  We spent the better part of an afternoon, first finding only a couple of morels higher in the mountains before dropping lower to find more.  A hundred feet of elevation can make a big difference.

Tamara used her nose to tell us there were morels around a couple of slash piles.  She was right on.  Although morels are less odiferous than other mushrooms,  Tamara is good at detecting them. We found several morels close to the edge of the slash piles, but we had to move some of the debris to uncover them.  If you have the need to move branches on a slash pile, please toss them higher on the pile rather than scattering them around.  Those piles cost a lot to make and tearing them apart is vandalism.

Upon setting off across the forest we came upon more morels hiding in the detritus on the forest floor in many of the micro-habitats described above.  Although we spent a lot of the afternoon exploring unproductive areas, we were able to collect a couple pounds of morels and enjoyed a great walk in the woods. One last note.  Please cook your morels.  Mushroom cells are made of chitin an indigestible material.  Cooking allows your body to gain the full benefits of the mushrooms while greatly enhancing their taste.  In addition, some people get very ill eating raw morels.

More Information

The U.S. Forest Service published a book entitled “Ecology and Management of Morels Harvested From the Forests of Western North America.” You can download it in four parts:

Tom Volk offers a lot of information in his article “Fungus of the Month” for April 1997. If you’d like to try growing your own,  be sure to study the links collected by The Mushroom Growers’ Newsletter. For information on cooking morels see the “Mushroom Appreciation” website.

Credits

The text, video and all photos, except as noted below, are by Jerry Haugen, Pathfinder, and ©2011 Global Creations LLC.  The photo of the plate of mushrooms below is by Trish Haugen, Chief Scout, and ©2011 Global Creations LLC.  The photos of your Pathfinder and the false morel are ©2011 by Tamara Campbell and used here with permission. The song “I Just Enjoy Morels Too Much” is used in the soundtrack of the video.  It was written by Zoe Wood and Larry Evans and performed by Zoe Wood.  Larry gave us permission to use it.  If you like the tune, please buy the Fungal Boogie CD with 13 songs about mushrooms. Morels on a Plate

198 Responses to “Morel Mushroom Hunting”

  1. Anita says:

    Good Afternoon Chris,

    My family is thinking about our annual mushroom hunting weekend…debating if we should go now, or wait a couple of weeks. We live in SE Washington an hour from the Blue Mountains, and 3 hours from the Grand Coulee Area. Any thoughts on approx timeline for prime mushrooming?

  2. Terri says:

    are the mushrooms about gone in Indiana?

  3. Hi Terri,

    It depends on where you are in Indiana. A quite a lot were still being found in Union, Wabash, Fayette, Noble, and Huntington Counties this week.

    Happy Hunting!

    -Jerry-

  4. Hi Anita,

    I’ve seen some reports from Central and Eastern Washington (Ellensburg, Cle Elum), so depending upon the elevation and water situation, there should be some showing up in your area.

    Happy Hunting!

    -Jerry-

  5. Virginia Mitchell says:

    Are these morel mushrooms illegal to awakening the state of VA someone told me its black-marketing

  6. Hi Virgina,
    “Someone” was wrong. I’ve heard that morels have been visiting Virginia for the last couple of weeks.

    Happy hunting!
    -Jerry-

  7. Rebecca says:

    Are there Morels in South Carolina especially around North Myrtle Beach area

  8. Hi Rebecca,
    There might be an occasional one around, but they are not often found in the lowlands. Try looking in the NW third of the state. I’ve heard of some this year from the Columbia, Greenville and Lancaster areas. Pretty good picking a month or so ago.
    Happy hunting!
    -Jerry-

  9. Karl Wenner says:

    Hey Jerry!
    Just came across this site after Anne and I spent the day wandering around looking for morels. What a great site, looks like you are having fun with it!
    We found a few but seems pretty dry. We found them anywhere from 4200 to 5200 feet and didn’t seem like there was a bunch at any particular elevation. have you had any other reports from the area? We tried the thinned areas on Westside Road but it is already dusty dry at that elevation.
    Maybe we’ll get some rain!
    Thanks for putting together such a cool website.
    Karl

  10. Hi Karl,
    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you are enjoying the website.

    I haven’t heard of any other finds from the east side of the Cascades in southern Oregon. The lack of snow and early snowmelt, of what little there was, makes it hard to guess what might happen. Nonetheless, my guess is the rain we are getting right now should help them get going and growing in the places you have been finding them. The rain is spotty, but apparently heavy in some places. The more rain the better. Now, if we can find some good habitats that also got some heavy rain we’ll be all set!

    Happy hunting!
    -Jerry-

  11. Maddie says:

    How many types of morels are there

  12. Hi Maddie,

    The answer is that no one knows for sure, yet. The thing about mushrooms is they can look quite different from each other based upon how they grow (sunlight, temperature, water etc.) even though they may be genetically identical. Taxonomists that study living things like to group them into genera. Morels are in the genus Morchella. Some taxonomists think there are 50 or so species within the genus Morchella based upon their appearance and others think there may be as few as three. The genetics on all 50 of the potential morels will need too be examined before we know which are really separate species.

    As far as types of morels. that’s a bit of a different story. This is not a scientific term and is generally used to describe the morels you might be looking for in the forest. Typically they are blonde or yellow, white, and black. Some taxonomists think those are the only species of morels and some think there may be several species in each type.

    Thanks for asking!
    -Jerry-

  13. Stacy Nelson says:

    How can I tell if it is too late for new morels to grow in Michigan?

  14. Hi Stacy,

    In general, morels will fruit (they are always growing underground) after the snow melts and the ground warms up a little. They will continue to fruit as long as the ground stays damp and the humidity stays high. So, it depends on the weather. In at least one place, morels are known to fruit eight months of the year near a stream that keeps them damp and under dense shade that helps keep the humidity up (it’s a pretty humid place to start with). So, it also depends on the micro-climate and local conditions. People were still finding morels in Michigan last week.

    UPDATE: Michigan Department of Natural Resourses has produced a map designed to help you find morels in that state. Check it out at:
    http://www.midnr.com/Publications/pdfs/ArcGISOnline/StoryMaps/frd_mushrooms_hunting/index.html

    Happy hunting!
    -Jerry-

  15. Donna says:

    I was told mushrooms will grow for only 10 days in Iowa, Is this true?

  16. Hi Donna,

    A specific morel may grow over a few days and dry out and disappear in ten days or so – maybe that’s what you were told about. Nonetheless, a patch of morels can produce mushrooms for several weeks and, in the example I gave Stacy, eight months under specific conditions. They don’t pay much attention to state lines.

    Happy hunting!
    -Jerry-

  17. Tanner says:

    Any news on morels still popping up in northern Indiana “Marshall county” to be specific? I’ve been finding grays and blacks for the better part of three weeks and have only encountered several yellow about three days ago. I hunt family owned property over 200 acres for over ten years and this has been an odd year.

  18. Hi Tanner,

    From what I hear they got started in the middle of April – that’s a bit early. Depending on local conditions (rain particularly) you may still be able to find some although I suspect the season is about over there. Definitely an odd year.

    Happy Hunting!
    -Jerry-

  19. Amy says:

    Hi! Do you know if there have been any morels in Northern Colorado? Poudre or Big Thompson areas?

    Thank you!!!
    Amy

  20. Hi Amy,
    A reporter from Colorado says:
    May 5: Bellevue area 6300 feet
    May 13 Bellevue area 7100 feet
    May 22: Laporte area 7100 feet
    May 24 Livermore Area 8200 feet
    You’ll need to do some estimating to get a bead on what’s happening elsewhere.

    Happy Hunting!
    -Jerry-

  21. maureen says:

    this is the firsxt year my husband and i have actually found morels about six pounds or so and he was very excited but my father in law seems to think that they grow any where and i am not finding that to be the case is there a limit to the range of elevation for finding them? like what is the highest and lowest for the best luck we live in central oregon and go in to the malher forest where we have had several burns a really good one two years ago…

  22. Hi Maureen,

    Congratulations on your success!

    Morels can grow anywhere that conditions are right (but not everywhere). As far as elevation goes, there really is no limit. As I mentioned earlier, they were found at 6300 feet in Colorado and a week later they were appearing at 7100 feet. They have also been found close to sea level.

    You won’t find them everywhere at once, because they need appropriate soil temperatures, water and other things. However if you find them in a burn at one elevation, you will probably find them later at a higher elevation – assuming conditions are pretty similar.

    Happy hunting!

    -Jerry-

  23. Tonya says:

    I was wondering if anyone could tell me if morals grow anywhere in the northwest part of Washington near Seattle or surrounding areas?

  24. Hi Tonya,

    Yes, morels grow throughout western Washington.

    -Jerry-

  25. Wade says:

    Hi Jerry
    I am trying to find out about Morels in the gaston oregon area around hagg lake. Last year they had a fire & there are many clear cuts out in that area..
    Any info about that area Would be greatly appreciated.

  26. Hi Wade,

    The conditions you describe should be prime areas for black morels. Looks like the season is starting earlier than usual, with morels being found in places like Medford and Oakridge. Given those places are at considerably higher elevations than Hagg Lake, I suggest you get out there and start looking.

    Best of luck!
    -Jerry-

  27. carter says:

    Wanting to get out and find some morels. I’ve only ever hunted for chanterelles. I live in NW Oregon, about 30 miles east of Astoria. I’m going to check some fresh clear cuts and look around near my chanterelle grounds to see if I can get lucky!

  28. Yerma Bernhard says:

    Hi-

    Would you know if the morels have started popping in the Rogue Valley or at higher elevation?

  29. Hi Yerma,

    I have seen a few reports mostly from mid to late March around Medford and as far up the hill as Oakridge. It’s time to be looking!’

    -Jerry-

  30. Joy says:

    Howdy Jerry!

    I live in Prospect and have been mushroom hunting since I was a kid. I keep finding excellent spots to pick them, and I’m almost positive I’m always too early. Is it a good method to go back every day or so, or do I wait a few weeks and scout it out? And also, may I ask if you know of any spots around or near Prospect that are likely good to go at this time of year? I am happy to hear a response, and thank you for all your kind and helpful responses to everyone prior.

  31. Hi Joy,
    The season has been pretty early this year, probably because of the big rains we had in March. I suggest you get out and start looking. In years when you think you are too early and there is still snow on the ground or it’s just too cold, try doing to lower elevations or southern exposures. As the weather warms up, you will find morels at higher elevations and in other exposures. If you can, it would be great to go looking every three or four days, but there is no point in going to the same spot each time since you risk never finding any. When you do find some, note the elevation and aspect and look for more in similar locations.
    Happy Hunting!
    =Jerry-

  32. Haley says:

    Hi Jerry
    I plan on traveling in Oregon picking and selling morels. Do I need to get different permits for different areas? Also, where would I find buyers?
    Thanks Haley

  33. Hi Haley,

    Yes, you will need different permits depending upon where you pick. Some of the National Forests sell permits that cover several adjacent Forests. You’ll have to check in at the local Ranger Station or Supervisor’s Office to get permits and they will tell you which Forests they cover. Some private forest lands allow picking, but they all have different permit systems.

    If there is a bumper crop somewhere, there will likely be buyers in tents in nearby towns. Otherwise, you can do a Google search to find buyers, or try taking the mushrooms to the produce managers at local grocery stores.

    Happy hunting!

    -Jerry-

  34. Kody says:

    Wondering if morels are around grays harbor wa? I know we fi d alot of chanterelles out here.

  35. Hi Kody,
    Yes, there are morels in that area. They started appearing near Olympia a couple weeks ago, so you should be out looking.
    Happy Hunting!
    -Jerry-

  36. Bill says:

    hi my friend.. Been looking in southwest virginia for a couple days now, and nothing. Usually they up by now. Curious as to whats going on? Not enough rain maybe? Thanks

  37. elizabeth sennett says:

    Any info on where and when they might be found in the mt loop hwy area, like green mountain, or anywhere really in the snohomish county area, Arlington, Monroe, gold bar, Mt pilchuck area ? I looked all last week but all I found was a couple soggy verpas, am I too late or too early? I know we are expecting some rain this week, is it possible they will pop up after the record heat and rain we have this month? Thank you in an advance, great info and love the site!

  38. Jason says:

    Happy days Jerry.
    I am curious about morels up and around odell/crescent lake. Over Willamette pass.
    I have a cabin up there and have many other kind of choice edibles. Hoping for morels also?
    Thank and happy hunting
    Jason

  39. Hi Bill,

    Reports around there are pretty sparse. Apparently some were found around Blacksburg at the end of March. Next closest would be on the Cherokee National Forest more recently. Lack of rain can definitely slow the morels. Take a look at the map at http://morelhunters.com/index.php/ and see if you can come up with a theory about why they are where they are. It may just be a bad year, but it is time to be looking.

    Happy Hunting,
    -Jerry-

  40. Hi Elizabeth,

    There just aren’t many reports for your area. A few have been found around Olympia and Tacoma recently, so perhaps they haven’t gotten to higher elevations yet. If it’s been dry there, a rain could get them started. The only way to know for sure is to keep looking …

    Happy hunting!
    -Jerry-

  41. Hi Jason,

    Some were found around Oakridge last month, but that’s all I’ve seen. I haven’t been up that way, but I’d have to guess the ground isn’t warm enough at the pass. Might be some around the lakes.

    Happy hunting,
    -Jerry-

  42. Suzee says:

    Hello!
    My boyfriend and I are driving through Oregon, just passing time over the weekend. We’re heading to Lincoln City for the night. Would you happen to know if there are any great places nearby that we might find some morels?

    :)

  43. jan Young says:

    hello Jerry
    I have been an avid hunter of the morel mushroom. In the spring we go to the White pass and Chinook pass areas of central WA. We usually find a few pounds on a good hunt or at least enough for our dinner on a not-so-good hunt. Last spring we found 1 single morel all season!!! It was incredibly dry in 2015.
    Have you heard of anyone finding them in that general area this year? Or should we try to find a new honey-hole?
    Thank you,
    Jan

  44. Hi Suzee,

    Sorry, I don’t have any details like that. You might try the Cascade Myco Society Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/cascademyco.org/

    Happy Hunting!

    -Jerry-

  45. Hi Jan,

    I haven’t heard anything from that area yet. The water situation looks a lot better than last year – snow is melting fast. See: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/drought/

    Happy Hunting!

    -Jerry-

  46. lisa partee says:

    we are planning a trip to Michigan may 20th and 21st is this to late in the season to find mushrooms there?

  47. Hi Lisa,

    Well, morels started showing up in Michigan in the middle of April this year, pretty much like last year. Usually the season ends around the middle of May there, so your visit will be pretty late. Still, it all depends on local weather. One never knows with morels.

    -Jerry-

  48. tammy ballard says:

    just wondering my husband and i are heading to wisconsin this weekend may 26th 2016 any morels left and what area should we go to

  49. Hi Tammy,
    Morels were up in Wisconsin in April and some were found at the Muscoda Morel Festival (May 14-15). Some were found between Eau Claire and La Crosse on May 18. Last year the season started at about the same time, maybe a little earlier, and ended up around the first of June. From what I hear, the season is at its tail end in Wisconsin now. You might find a few, but don’t be surprised if you just have a nice time in the woods.
    -Jerry-

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