May 01, 2017

Where will the best be in Michigan?

The answers to this burning question are made much less predictable and more questionable by the unusual weather patterns we continue to experience. The key variables are soil temperature, water content, the existence of key growth-enhancing minerals and nutrients, suitable host trees, burn and soil disruption areas, and particularly the gathering habits of past pickers. Just the right combinations and intensities of these variables will determine the answer…

As an “Aging Michigan Outdoorsman,” I have pleasurably experienced countless mushrooming excursions and learned much about the mystical morel mushroom. Prior to each season I try to share some of these lessons learned with my readers. A significant finding is one that is continually reinforced season after season. Every serious mushroomer has unique gathering experiences. As an outdoor communicator I try to share more than enough to facilitate your mesmerizing and pleasurable mushrooming experiences.

Few outdoor activities offer more benefits than mushroom hunting. Here are some interesting and informative facts and observations that will help you derive your own conclusions concerning the where, what, why, when, and how of productive morel mushroom hunting .

Soil Temperature

When the soil temperature, four inches down, reaches 47 degrees F, morel mushrooms really start to pop. A common temperature probe thermometer can be a valuable tool in your knapsack. After inserting the probe in the soil, wait about five minutes to take a reading. Wide variations will be found depending on sun exposure, soils composition, and water content. Constant soil monitoring near known host trees and on south-facing slopes will eventually put you in the right place at the right time rather than just aimlessly cruising back roads and woodlands; intelligent patience is the key to success. Important and useful lessons will be learned.

Water Content

Morels like growing on higher ground and often adjacent to standing water. Too wet; no morels. Slightly higher ground along creeks, ponds, and lakes – especially where tag alder and poplar are present, offer good prospects. Old drained beaver impoundments scattered with the remnants of dead and dying host trees are also well-worth investigating further. A warm night time rain during 50-degree nights often causes morels to pop where there were none before. The early bird gets the worm or morels.

Growth-Enhancing Minerals and Nutrients

For the most part; morels propagate over the decaying root systems of host trees. Search the drip line of each candidate tree. This drip line is the furthest extent of the root system. When the tree was heathy and vibrant. This distance also corresponds to the furthest extent of the tree’s crown of foliage in its prime. The sweet time for gathering lasts for only about five years of the 20+ year tree decay process. Check often and thoroughly at each site, record your observations and findings in your log book and keep quiet. Over-harvesting is never a good thing.

Suitable Host Trees

Morels can flourish over the decaying root systems of virtually any tree under the right circumstances. Usually, the shallower the tree’s root system the more likely. Elm, birch, poplar, ash, apple, beech, and the common tag alder are prominent morel host trees in my stomping grounds in NW Lower Michigan.

In all cases except the tag alder, focus on dead and dying trees. The tag alder’s root system is very shallow and continually dying and spreading. Determining bearing status of a potential host tree is not always that noticeable. The first things I look for in a new area are visibly stressed trees. Loose and peeling bark and a narrower and sparser than usual crown of leaves are dead giveaways. Unusually light color of leaves and premature leaf loss also distinguish these active host trees from healthy non-productive ones.

During the approximately 5-year morel-producing life of a tree, morel propagation will first occur some distance from the base of the tree, at the outer dripline. Toward the end of the tree’s productive cycle, fewer morels will be found close to the main trunk of the tree. In the case of severely decayed trees, be sure to look under the large shards of peeled bark found here.

As I systematically go through my areas, I record the location of each morel-bearing host tree in my field log book. GPS coordinates are great. Host trees come and go over time. Monitor them and continually search for new ones. This is what I mean by intelligent patience while mushrooming.

Burn and Disrupted Soil

It is no big secret that burn areas and disrupted soil areas, like in the case with logging operations, are the most prolific for morel growth. Each season, savvy experienced mushroomers and commercial enterprises seek out and flock to these areas with often phenomenal results.

The key to success is timing. The best morel production occurs the season following the burn or disruption. Focus your initial efforts on the perimeters of these areas adjacent to tall, cooler standing timber.

Recently the DNR has started publishing annual maps and information about burn and logging disruption state-wide. Go to our Michigan DNR website for access.

At up to $60 per pound in the fresh state; there is aromatic gold is those woodlands. Morels are commonly sold to eager buyers who in turn sell them to restaurants and wholesalers world-wide. Or pleasurably consumed or preserved for future use by the mushroomers themselves.

Habits of Past Pickers

As is the case with other outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing, particularly ice fishing, people tend to congregate in bunches and relatively close to easy access areas. This is particularly problematic for mushroom hunters. Game and fish simply move. Morels on the other hand simply become depleted. Over-harvesting will eventually eliminate morels in vast areas of normally productive woodlands.

Each morel annually produces millions of spores that could produce more morels. If they come to rest in just the right location and under favorable conditions. Very few do. The natural wind is the spore dispersion mechanism. It takes up to five years for a morel mushroom spore to germinate. Like wildflowers in a desert, spores can lie dormant for years waiting for just the right conditions. No spores, no propagation. Get off the beaten path. Seek out remote areas and spot-check past morel haunts each season. Again, when you find morels, keep quiet and harvest responsibly.

Your morel mushroom hunting experiences can be highly enjoyable for the whole family. Often you will discover that the young keen eyes of children, once properly instructed, cannot be matched. Their smaller stature and inexhaustible energy will make you tired just watching them. The gleam in their eyes, particularly when they find their very first morel, is precious and photo-worthy. This phenomenon occurs at all ages. As an “Aging Michigan Outdoorsman” with thousands of harvested morels to my credit; my reward is the creation of yet another Michigan outdoors-person. Enjoy your experiences in the great Michigan wild outdoors.

For more information about the many lessons I have learned during 50 plus enjoyable years as an outdoorsman, Google my name, and go to my Author Website to view the Press Releases for each of my Trilogy of Books on Fifty Years of Lessons Learned of a Michigan Outdoorsman. Also regularly go to my Author Joe Lunkas Fan Page. I post the very latest gathering, fishing, and hunting information for NW Lower Michigan every Friday by 5 pm. These books are specially designed and formatted to be read and enjoyed while actually in the outdoors and are available in both print and EBook format.