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When is the best time to hunt for morel mushrooms?

The morel mushroom is a big prize of mushroom hunting. Learn the science behind these exotic-looking mushrooms!

IOWA, USA — The morel mushroom is no doubt a culinary delicacy and prize of mushroom hunting. During the months of April and May, social media becomes flooded with pictures of mushroom hunters' treasures. 

If you aren't lucky enough to have a friend to take you, how do you find them? And where do they grow? 

Brian Ritter, the executive director at Nahant Marsh, offered some expertise on the exotic-looking mushroom. 

“Morels are kind of interesting in that they have this symbiotic relationship with trees,"  said Ritter. "So they live underground, there’s mycelium that stayed underground for years and once those trees start to become stressed whether it's because of a fire, because of a flood, because the trees are dying that’s when the mushrooms start to pop."

Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus and has a beneficial relationship with trees. 

“The trees make sugar for the mycelium, for the mushroom. And the mushroom provides proteins and provides phosphorus and things like that," Ritter said. "And when the tree gets stressed, that causes the mycelium to detect that stress and that’s when they send up their mushrooms. Because they know like our source of food is gonna die. We have got to reproduce and send our spores out into the world and find a new place to live."

Credit: WQAD
Bronwyn, 3, holds out two beautiful morel mushrooms she found a few weeks ago "somewhere in Illinois."

Looking around dead or dying trees is going to be the best area to find a morel mushroom. Elm, ash, cottonwoods, and sycamores are all typical species to find morels near. Usually, we see mushroom growth during the spring, so the weather needs to be in our favor. 

“Really has to do with soil temperature. If soil temperatures are above about 50 degrees that’s when you’re going to start seeing these things emerge," said Ritter. 

With the spring rains on top of the warming temperatures, the magic happens. 

Every season is going to offer its own challenges. It can't be too dry and you don't want it to be warm too soon when we transition to the spring months. This year we saw temperatures warm pretty quickly, which allowed rapid growth of grass and other vegetation. This made finding morels a more challenging task. 

Nahant Marsh has also offered a mycology introduction class this year and plans to do it again later this year! If you are interested in learning more about all the different types of mushrooms that can enhance your kitchen creations, you can learn more here

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