Edible Mushroom Forecast April/May

Last month I introduced the 3 most common spring edible mushrooms; oysters, spring boletes, and morels. I talked about oyster mushrooms and landscape morels.  I also stated, “My reading has taught me about three types of mushrooms based upon their fruiting habitat; landscape morels, natural morels, and burn morels.” Evidently, I got this wrong as many websites only distinguish between natural and burn morels. Or, maybe I should have included more types; as there are also riparian or river morels, and clear-cut morels. Regardless of how many types there are, let’s first discuss morel look-alikes. Fortunately, Noah Siegel, co-author of the “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast” recently did a Facebook post about this subject. Given that Eugenians are all about re-use and the fact that Noah is much more knowledgeable than I, I will let him explain:Morels have the honeycomb cap, and a single hollow interior, through the stipe and cap. Verpa caps can be smooth or look like a morel, but they will only be attached at the very top of the stipe (like a thimble), and have a pith-filled or pocketed stipe. Gyromitra (false morel) can have a simple, lobed to a massive brain-like cap, with many folds and chambers, and often multi-chambered stipe (with or without pith).

Pictured, from left to right: Morchella brunnea, M. americana, Verpa bohemica, Gyromitra esculenta (upper right) G. montata (lower right)Although many people eat verpas and some even eat some species of gyromitra CMS does not recommend the consumption of either. If you do choose to eat verpas make sure they are fully cooked.  Better yet, if you want the flavor of a morel … go find a morel!This brings us back to true morels. No matter what type of morel or habitat, two very important factors are soil temperatures and moisture levels. The ideal soil temperature for morels is 55 degrees or above. If you don’t carry around a soil thermometer; trilliums (pictured right) and lady slippers are a good indication.  The soil should also be moist and loose. Moisture levels are very good right now, but as summer approaches, soils will start to dry and harden. Morel hunters start at the lower elevations early in the season (now) and then head to higher elevations as the season progresses. Southern versus northern slopes and exposures also affect both temperature and moisture levels. Later in the season morels can only be found at higher elevations on north-facing slopes or after a day or two of rain.  Morels can be found after June, but are much more difficult.Lower elevations bring us to riparian morels which should be out now, and they can be large and beautiful. The most reliable habitat is near rivers, floodplains, and wetlands where cottonwood trees are present.  A downed or dying cottonwood can be a bonanza for morels.  But, don’t get too excited yet. From reading the morel related blogs and forums it takes a lot of time and tramping through brambles to really get good at finding them.  The good news is that once you do find a spot it will most likely be reliable in future years.I have never had much luck with clear-cut morels, but others certainly have.  Online reports state that one-year-old clear cuts are the best.The best spots are described as along the skidder roads and disturbed areas caused by heavy equipment and near brush piles.  Look at the areas where the slash wood has accumulated; in ditches and depressed areas and around the edges of a clearcut. If you are out and about a spot a recent lower elevation clearcut, take a look around. An important word of caution is to never hunt for morels on privately logged land as there is a high likelihood of herbicides being sprayed.

Now let’s talk about Burn Morels.  A previous year forest fire area is one of the most reliable habitats for finding morels in the Pacific Northwest. Not too many secrets here, just find some scorched earth, along with the right soil temperature and moisture level and you will most likely find morels. Having said this, there are a few “trials and tribulations” that go along with burn morels:

  • News travels fast when a burn location becomes active.  So, you will most likely be out there with a lot of other folks.
  • You will most likely have to drive an hour or more to get to a bur
  • n site.
  • Burn sites are full of ashes; be prepared to get dirty.
  • Morels hide very well in burn sites, leading to back pain from the “burn area crouch”.
  • Then there is the $5000 maximum fine for violating forest service closures; which are usually put in place after any major forest fire to protect public safety.
This last data point is the reason why CMS does not sponsor morel forays into recent burn areas. If you do make the personal decision to go look for morels in a burn area make sure you educate yourself on what you are getting into.  The forest service websites are not always up to date with their closure notices. Even if the website states that a closure has been rescinded you may get there and find closed roads or trails.  So, it is best to call the applicable ranger station. To avoid closure problems, seek out smaller fire areas including prescribed burns. Or, just wait a year. There won’t be as many morels the 2nd year after a burn. But, you will avoid the closures and crowds.

Best for Beginners: Once you learn to distinguish a true morel from a false morel you should be just fine. Just be prepared to spend some time at perfecting your knack for finding them.

Here are some helpful resources:
2017 Oregon Fire Map
2017 Oregon fires over 1000 acres
State of Oregon Fire list search
Fire Closures for Detroit, Middle Fork, and McKenzie River

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