Last post we talked a bit about the differences between foraging for plants and hunting mushrooms, especially Morels. We discussed how mushroom hunting can either be one of the most rewarding things you will do, or it can be one of the most disappointing. However you should not let the gamble of finding your mother lode sway you from mushroom hunting. Remember though there are no sure fire ways to find Morels and no way to guarantee you will find them. There are some things that you can do though that will improve your chances of success. It takes a little knowledge and understanding of the morels growth cycle, habits, and environments. It also takes a little tree identification skill.
First it must be noted that there are several species of Morels that can exist in Indiana and Morel morphology is a complex part of mycology, and only recently have some genetic tests been done on North American species. These tests have helped a great deal in our understanding of Morel mushrooms, however we will not be focusing on multiple species, per se. The reason I say that is because the most commonly hunted Morel in Indiana is the yellow Morel, or Morchella esculenta/esculentoides cannot be distinguished genetically yet from Morchella cryptica. Also the commonly called gray Morel, isn't genetically different from the typical yellow. It just happens to be an immature form of the same species
As you can see these kinds of complications would make it difficult for the purpose of this to cover the multiple species here. However if you want to learn more about the species of Morels in the United States, head over to mushroomexpert.com. It's a great resource on not just Morels but other mushrooms too, full of scholarly articles and research. So with that being said let's get right into it.
Let's start with the Morels growth cycle a very tricky and complex working that is yet to be fully understood, though mycologists or mushroom scientists, have a pretty good idea of how it works. Mushrooms grow from a hairy like substance known as mycelium which is made up of hyphae. Mycelium is the "plant" part of the organism underground, or within substrate, and the above ground mushroom that we see is the fruit. To produce this fruit and to spread or grow it's mycelium the Morel has a couple different tricks up it's sleeve. It's able to reproduce either asexually or sexually, dependent upon conditions of course.
Mushroom growth starts with spores which in the Morels case go on to produce mycelium after germination in the soil. After this germination and growth of mycelium, the organism will then reproduce asexually and produce a sclerotium. A hard mass of mycelium at the base of the mushroom. This sclerotia, if the conditions are right, will produce a Morel mushroom.
However if the conditions are not right, or more appropriately just right, the sclerotia will instead revert back to a primary mycelium to reproduce with another primary mycelium to create a secondary mycelium. This secondary mycelium then produces a sclerotia, which if the condtions are right, will produce a Morel. However if the mushroom organism doesn't fruit then it could go through a process in which it's hyphae reach towards the root of it's host.
Okay what does all that mean for Morel hunters? Well a couple things. One don't pull up your mushrooms as you can damage the sclerotia and interrupt the growth and reproduction cycle of the organism. Second it means that if sclerotia are left to form, then more mycelium will grow and produce more sclerotia. Which that in itself should mean more Morels, however with a catch. That catch being that conditions have to be just right for the fruit or mushroom to form. Third it means if your spot isn't producing this year, maybe it's just reproducing underground to make more sclerotia. Lastly it means that the Morel organism as a whole takes time to grow and doesn't just pop up overnight, but a little more on that later.
Alright so now that we've got our mushroom, how does it get nutrients? Morels are usually mycorhizzal, which means they are beneficial to what they form relationships with, trading nutrients back and forth from tree to mushroom.
Using this relationship the mushroom can get it's nutrients and grow in size over time, or as long as conditions allow which is about 2-3 weeks here in Indiana. Over this time the mushroom will usually reach it's end size and then start to decay, though this can happen sooner if conditions are poor. The larger the Morel you find the longer it has been growing, and I know some reading this may think hogwash, they just pop up! However there are two well done time lapses that show the growth of a Morel mushroom. The first one is done over a fifteen day period and was filmed by Chris Matherly of the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club.
The second is done over a ten day period and was filmed by YouTube user KenScottPhotgraphy.
So if you've hunted the same spots a couple days in a row and one day it seemed as if they popped up, it was more likely that you just didn't see them due to a number of reasons, which we will get into a little later. However you must also ask yourself this, do you know of any "fruit" that "pops up" to a size of several inches overnight? Probably not, and the same is true for Morels, they do grow quick in comparison to trees however.
This all brings us to growing conditions and what the Morel prefers as far as climate, because everybody always talks about the weather, and even mycologists mention the perfect conditions need to take place. What are those conditions? Well the right amount of rain, which seems to be undetermined as far as a particular amount from what I can tell. From my very unscientific observations any more than 3"-4" in a day or two seems to be a little too much for them to fruit well. However due to the confusing nature of Morels this is pure speculation. If you find an article or source that explains this further, please let me know:) However I do know the soil must reach the right temperature for the fruit or mushroom to grow and grow well. I have not found an exact soil temperature level though the range seems to be 50-70 deg. Farenheit. They also require a certain number of degree-days, or days above freezing with temperatures at approx. 50 deg. Farenheit for fruiting to occur.
In Indiana this all seems to usually culminate in early-mid April and goes through end of April to the first week of May for the southern end of the state and the northern end of the state.To check the soil temperature for this region go to: http://www.greencastonline.com/tools/soiltempmaps.aspx To check the number of Degree-Days go to: http://pnwpest.org/GL/ddmaps.html.
Now that we know how they grow and what helps them to grow, you might remember that little bit from earlier how Morels form a relationship with trees to trade nutrients back and forth. Well there are certain types of trees you should be looking for here in Indiana. It should be noted though you might find a Morel next to a tree that isn't listed here, like oak for example. Tulip Poplar, Ash, Elm, old Apple orchards are great places to find Morels.
In my experience I find them next to Tulip Poplar or Ash more than I do Elms or Apple orchards but mainly because I don't see many Elms in my area and I haven't hunted Apple orchards. The thing to find are areas with good soil and plenty of moisture, and a good north or south facing slope can be a good thing too. So how do we identify these trees? There are a couple of ways that you can do this. One is the bark, another is the leaves, and the third combines the bark with growth structure. Though identification by bark or leaves is easiest and usually best for most people.
Note how the Ash bark has a distinct X like pattern to it, with rather deep pits because of the thick outer bark. Whereas the Tulip Poplar has more of a criss-cross pattern to it. It should also be noted that there are several variations of the bark on these species. I highly recommend a valuable resource for tree bark identification that can be found on the appropriately named treebarkid.com, which gives a plethora of pictures of tree bark across several species of trees.
The leaves of Poplars and Ash have a certain look and last year's leaves can be found at the base of the tree. Doing this also keeps you from having to look up through all the vegetation to spot a specific leaf shape, which can be difficult. Ash leaves because of their shape are especially hard to identify through the foliage of spring, so looking on the ground can be a great way to save yourself some time. Now let's take a look at what the leaves of these trees look like so we know what to look for.
Note how the Ash leaves are egg shaped or oval and grow in 7-9 leaves on a stem each leaf opposite of each other with the last one sticking straight out the end. The Tulip Poplars leaves have four lobes, two of which are more deeply divided. Each lobe has a point on the end and the bottom of the leaves have a distinct curve to them. They also grow one leaf to a stem.
Another great resource for tree identification can be found at mushroomexpert.com
Now we know a good bit about Morels and you've got and idea of the trees they associate with, their growth and more. It's time to get out and start finding locations that house those trees a bit before Morel season actually hits because the season is so short, that scouting locations and hunting can sometimes be a challenge. However just because you found a spot that has the right kind of trees does not guarantee success, it just increases your chances a fair amount. I like to do my scouting in the warmer days of early to late winter as the leaves are off the trees and seeing far is much easier. One of my favorite trees to scout first is tulip poplar because it's one of the fastest growing trees in the state. Another reason is tulip poplars have a flower followed by a "fruit" that often remains through the winter and is very easy to spot from a distance.
This fruit to me resembles a leftover flower from the distance I usually see them. Once we see this we only need to look at the bark of the tree to further prove what we are seeing. If we combine those two factors with leaf shape we have a definitive answer that where we are looking is a place where Morels might grow. Once we have zoomed in on some tulip poplars keep an eye out for younger ash and possible elms in the area as they frequently share the same type of habitat that poplars do.
After you have learned the way that Morels grow, what conditions they like and, what trees they form relationships with the only thing left to do is get out there and start hunting them! But not too fast there, because there are some important tips for when you are hunting them. So let's say you found a Morel, what do you do now? First don't harvest it yet. Stop, don't move! Take a real good look around the area before cutting the one you found. Usually doing this will reveal a couple more. For each one you find this way mark the location in your head, then get down low to the ground and cover the same area again, there's a chance you will find even more. While out and about make sure to use your stick to gently move things that may be hiding a morel. Don't tear up everything around you, just look carefully under or behind things that look "suspect". Sometimes while hunting you turn around and see one that you just walked right by, oftentimes it was hidden from the angle you went by and you didn't see it. This happened from them growing in or near bushes like Spicebush or Roses. Other times they may be growing in the space under a fallen log, or right behind a fallen log like a soldier behind a rampart.
Still other times you may find them hiding in some grass, or under some bark. Just look carefully with your eyes and try to cover the ground systematically as possible. After you have a good cluster of mushrooms in front of you, go ahead and take your knife and cut the stem about half an inch above the soil level to ensure the sclerotium stays intact. After cutting inspect for too many bugs, or too much damage and then put in a mesh bag. Mesh bags are very highly recommended because they allow the spores of the mushroom to blow out as you are walking through the woods. Like we learned earlier, those spores will hit the ground and some will germinate to form mycelium and the the Morels life cycle is born. So basically using mesh bags works like spreading the seed, or spore, of the mushroom.
Well that basically concludes this guide as it's all i know on the subject of hunting Morel mushrooms in Indiana. It's a lot to take in but over the years this knowledge has helped me to become a better mushroom hunter and I hope that it helps you on your hunts here in Indiana. Lastly a few words of advice. Watch out for snakes, don't trespass, and don't walk up on or ruin another persons hunt. Whether they are hunting game or mushrooms. Respect the woods and love nature for what she gives us.
 - Kuo, M. (2012, November). Morchella esculentoides. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/morchella_esculentoides.html
 - https://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2012/long_brad/reproduction.htm
 - Kuo, M. (2006, February). Glossary of mycological terms Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/glossary.html
 - Jeanne D. Mihail (2014) Is It Time for Morels Yet?, McIlvainea 23 (53–60): http://www.namyco.org/publications/mcilvainea/v23/time_for_morels.html
 - http://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/morel-mushroom-hunting-tips.html#sthash.EVKKz86x.dpbs
 - http://www.uky.edu/hort/Tulip-Poplar
Hey guys, I'm Josh. I'd Like to welcome you to the Trillium: WE blog. Here I'll share things with you like wild food meal ideas, harvesting tips, conservation of wild plants, wild plant book reviews, and more! I'll also be including pictures from scrapped videos for entertainment purposes as well. Stay tuned!
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