The only problem is spotting them. I can do pretty well in the fall seeing the various milky mushrooms (those in the Lactarius genus) or orange-colored chanterelles or the shining white oyster fungi, and so on. But morels are difficult, for me. Their pitted tan fruiting bodies seem to blend right in with the leaf litter.
There are those — my wife is one — who can locate a morel in a heartbeat. When we’re out hunting them together, she’ll say, “There’s one,” pointing to a big fine seemingly obvious specimen beside my right foot. A few moments later, she’ll exclaim, “And there’s another one!” pointing to an even larger seemingly even more obvious specimen beside my left foot. And so on. I fake it by acting like I’m not really trying to find morels, but just tagging along.
Once in a blue moon, my brain and eyes will get in sync, and I’ll go off on a hot streak, finding one morel after another. But that’s not very often. A good outing for me is one that turns up, say, four. Meanwhile, Elizabeth will be disappointed if she finds less than 15.
Like fishermen and sang hunters, morel enthusiasts have their favorite spots and idiosyncrasies.
A fisherman who has great faith in a certain plug can fish it from dawn to dusk with success. Good morel hunters tend to frequent habitats in which they first had success.
Some look for them in areas affected by a burn the previous year, noting by way of historical precedence that, “Morels have long been so sought after and have such an affinity for burned areas that the practice of slashing and burning to produce a morel crop the next year was banned by royal decree in medieval Germany.”
I haven’t seen him in awhile, but Mike Hamrick, our dentist here in Bryson City, used to go up Deep Creek and come back loaded with morels. Ask him where he found them and he’d say something like, “Oh, under a tree.” When pushed, he’d allow that he sometimes liked to look “under white pine.” Now Mike is a truthful fellow—but he is also capable of creating a smokescreen to lure others away from a favorite spot. In mid-April one year, I looked under every white pine from the Deep Creek campground to the turnaround and back (4.2 miles in all) and found two.
Elizabeth likes to look under tulip poplar when as she says, “Their leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.” She believes in that as a mnemonic device and it works … for her. In an article by Soc Clay titled “The Finest Fungus Among Us — and How To Find It,” that appeared in American Forests magazine, readers were advised to search under “large poplar trees growing on flat areas just under the ridge tops of east-facing slopes.” I don’t know about the “east-facing” part. It does, however, makes sense to check out terraces because spores would be more likely to accumulate in level places.
Another tree she looks under with great luck is under slippery elm. I am guessing that morels favor slippery elm because that species sheds limbs and twigs year round thereby creating favorable soil conditions. But that’s just a guess.
Most everyone agrees that — when all else fails — look under old apple trees; or better yet, apple trees that have recently fallen and are starting to rot. If you can’t find morels in that situation, you’d probably best find something else to do.
Morels seem to be almost social; that is, where you find one, you tend to find more – sometimes a whole lot more, which is exciting. It’s like looking for Easter eggs.
Morels fruit from late March into early May or even a little later, if it’s not too warm. There are different sizes and shades, ranging from gray or blackish ones the size of golf balls to creamy-yellowish ones the size of baseballs. Never eat any sort of fungi — even something as distinctive as a morel — without consulting a field guide. Misidentify a bird or a flower and no one cares. Misidentifying a mushroom can be a serious matter.