There’s nothing quite like going out into the woods in the spring to find morel mushrooms. But if you’re new to foraging or have failed to find these delicious mushrooms before, it can be tricky. Their growing season is short, and they are hard to spot. To avoid going home empty-handed, we have compiled a list of 7 common mistakes that people make, when looking for the elusive morel mushroom!
Mistake Number 1, Timing
Timing is everything! Morels are notoriously hard to find because they need the right temperature and humidity to thrive. That’s why it’s important to have your weather app up-to-date and ready to go if you want to hit the jackpot on mushroom hunting day.
Unfortunately, the date of their first appearance varies by year, so you can’t just rely on the date that you marked from last spring. Instead, keep an eye out for a week or two with daytime temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or 16 degrees Celsius.
The best times to find morels tend to be after a long damp rain during early spring or late autumn with temperatures between 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 to 26 degrees Celsius. The growing season for morels can last anywhere from two weeks to two months, so timing is key. If you go too early or too late, you may miss your opportunity.
Mistake Number 2, You’re Not Imprinting
Have you ever noticed after you spot the first morel mushroom in a forest, they suddenly seemed to be everywhere? That’s because your eyes and brain have been tuned into them! It’s usually that first morel that’s the hardest to spot.
Some experienced hunters leave that first one alone while they search the surrounding areas for more. They are imprinting their eyes and brain to spot the mushrooms hidden within leaf piles and brushes.
But you can actually imprint before starting your adventure to avoid glancing over the first morel. Some foragers will stare at photos of morels while some will use decoys. With decoys, you can start imprinting well in advance of your hunt. Have someone hide the decoys in and around your yard, and your eyes and brain will get used to spotting them as you practice more.
Mistake Number 3, Not Knowing the Land
If you’re looking to hunt for morels, keep an eye out in areas with plenty of moisture. Think streams, rivers, lakes, and damp forests.
The best spots are around the base of dead ash trees close to rivers or creeks within hardwood forests.
And if you’re hunting in the northern hemisphere early in the spring, you have a better chance at finding morel mushrooms on the south-west sides hills as they get the most sun early in the season. The hills create the perfect conditions for the spawning and fruiting of morels.
As it gets warmer over time, you should try heading deeper into the woods. This strategy usually works for most morels, with the exception of the black morel mushroom. Commonly, black morels are found in groups at the beginning of spring. You can start your hunt with a trip to hilltops in the middle of the woods, as this is where you’re most likely to find clusters of these black morels.
It’s also a good idea to explore troughs, ravines, washouts, run-offs, and depressions, which tend to have morels. All thanks to their exposure to the wind- and rain-carried spores.
Mistake Number 4, Not Paying Attention to Details
When foraging for morels, it’s important that you pay close attention to details such as size, texture, and color. They have a distinct shape that makes them easy to identify from a distance; however, there are certain varieties that may look similar at first glance, so make sure you take a closer look before picking them.
Morels also have an unmistakable spongy texture and honeycomb pattern on their caps which will help set them apart from other mushrooms in the area.
Lastly, always keep an eye out for color variations. Morels can range anywhere from light yellowish-brown all the way up to a deep blackish-brown hue.
If possible, try not to disturb the ground around them too much, as these mushrooms are incredibly delicate. You should also never harvest too many from one spot since this will prevent them from growing back next season.
Mistake Number 5, Not Looking For Trees
If you only keep your eyes peeled to the ground, you are missing out on a lot of clues that are in the trees. Many experienced morel “tree hunters” swear by the dead elm tree. You can also find morels near tulip trees, poplar, hickory, ash, and sycamore trees.
Morel foragers believe that there is a symbiotic relationship between trees and morels. But because you can also find morels by muddy banks, moss patches, and treeless yards, this theory remains unproven. Nevertheless, the hunting-for-trees strategy continues to show success for many. But one method that most morel foragers agree on, is that old apple orchards create ideal conditions for morels.
So if you know of any old apple trees, mark the spot and look often. Many yellow morels will grow under them even a few days after everything else is gone.
Mistake Number 6, Not Using Sighting Maps
To make sure you don’t miss the short-lived morel season, you can use technology to help you with your hunting adventures. There are many morel sighting maps available online where you can track their fruiting progress from the warmer spots to cooler climates. They may even surface local areas you may have missed. You can even narrow down to specific counties and cities for a more detailed view. The best part is to keep track of the pins as they move closer to your favorite foraging grounds every day.
Mistake Number 7, Not Knowing the Magic 50
Experienced morel hunters understand that the soil temperatures must be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius before they see morels popping up. A humid and damp spring often leads to a fruitful morel season, but a lot of foragers believe that the real precursor is when nighttime temperatures consistently are at or above 50 degrees for a few nights.
A Word of Caution, Be Careful with False Morels!
There is a species of mushrooms called false morels that looks very similar to true morels.
Some people have reported that false morels made them ill. So it’s important to know what you’re looking for and how to differentiate between morels and false morels.
The easiest way to tell the difference is by cutting your mushroom lengthwise down the center; true morels should have an open hollow chamber inside while false ones will likely be filled with cottony material or are solid.
Some people say that false morels are fine if you cook them; others report gastrointestinal problems even with cooked ones, so we advise that you avoid them.
Wrapping It Up
Whether you’re an experienced hunter or just starting out on your mushroom-hunting journey, keeping these 7 mistakes in mind will help ensure success on your next morel hunting adventure.
Check out our video re: 7 Reasons You Can’t Find Morel Mushrooms below.
And visit our YouTube channel for more information about mushrooms.
For some ideas for cooking your morels once you have found them, read our article 5 Delicious Morel Mushroom Recipes to Tickle Your Taste Buds.
And to learn more about foraging edible mushrooms, check out our Ultimate Mushroom Foraging Guide.
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