They’re famous for being a true delicacy. And if there’s anything to make them even more irresistible, it’s the fact we only have them to savor once a year. However, many don’t realize there are true morels and false morels. It is important to know the differences as false morels are poisonous. A true, edible morel is hollow, and a false, inedible morel has a cottony inside in the stem. False morels also can look similar, but you can usually tell they just have an “off” appearance. If you’re new to mushroom hunting, have an experienced person come with you to show you the ropes. And if you are not sure, play it safe. Remember this saying when you are out mushroom hunting this spring, “If it isn’t hollow, don’t swallow.”
This mushroom is the first edible morel to fruit. It can be as small as a ½-inch tall, and is often charcoal, light tan, dark brown or honey-colored. The black morel tends to have a meatier texture.
Gray (and Grey) Morel
One of the next edible morels to fruit is the gray, which in the right conditions, can grow to be 1-foot in height. This morel is usually a light to dark gray color, but may change to yellow as it matures. They tend to have more-dense of pits on their caps.
The yellow morel, also known as common morel, is the last edible morel to fruit. It typically ranges in white-creamy to a yellowish color and can also grow to as large as 1-foot tall. Depending on the weather, yellows will fruit with or just after the gray morels.
A good morel season depends on the winter snowfall amounts and spring weather. The more snow, the better for morel season due to all the moisture melting snow provides. Spring needs to be a gradual warm-up, keeping the soil damp at all times. The best temperature range for morels is 60s to low 70s during the day and 50s at night. Warm, rainy nights really get morels started. The usual morel season is during April and May.
Morels have a root system that causes them to often grow in bunches, usually in or near woods. They tend to come up around dead or decaying trees or roots (especially elms), heavy leaf cover or foliage, dried creek bottoms and near river banks or mossy areas. Morels prefer black or sandy soil, hate clay soil and cannot tolerate standing water.
Many people say morels grow where there are mayapples. However, I don’t think mayapples are necessarily a place you’ll find morels, I think they just like the same conditions.
During the start of morel time, plan on searching open areas first and shady areas later in the season. You want to check areas that are going to have a warmer temperature first. Try south-facing hills early and north-facing hills later. A good way to search is by starting at the bottom of a hill and zig-zagging your way up. It tends to be easier to locate morels this way than going down the hill. Too much sun and wind will dry morels out quickly, that is why as the season progresses and the spring temperature rises, it is best to move to shady areas.
When you do happen to find these hidden treasures of spring, be sure to cut or pinch the morels off. Never pull them from the ground as they grow from a root system. Then, place your morels in an onion or potato sack so you continue to spread spores as you walk in search of more mushrooms. Also, remember your special spots for next year! ~JP