Mushroom Hunting: Beyond the Dead Elms

By Tom Nauman

In another column we discussed the relationship between morel mushrooms and dead elms. Now let's think about where else they might be. There are other trees that occasionally produce a good patch. Cottonwoods, either living or deceased can be good places to look. Old apple, peach or pear orchards are reportedly good also. In 1989, shroomers that hunted the bottom lands near the rivers found bumper crops. One family we know literally filled their bathtub.

In Germany, there is a law on the books that makes it illegal to set fire to forests in order to hasten morel mushroom growth. That's right, any burned area of timber should produce morels. Please don't torch the woods. If you do, don't tell the police I told you to. It won't help this season anyway, check a year or two after the burn.

Time Magazine in 1991 reported morels causing economic problems near Tok, Alaska. I seems there was a forest fire near Tok in 1990 that created an overwhelming crop of morels in June of 1991. The economic problems began because people were either quitting their jobs because they could make more by finding mushrooms and selling them to commercial buyers or those that kept their jobs were hunting mushrooms all night (it's the land of the Midnight Sun) and falling asleep on the job. What a problem to have! We understand there was a huge burn near Juneau last summer. If one of the bus tour groups wants to organize a trip, I'll be the first to sign up.

Another interesting event accompanied the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption. The following season mushroom hunters were filling their pick up truck beds with morels found growing through the ashes. They didn't find out until they arrived home that the mushrooms had grown so quickly that they had encapsulated the grit from the ashes within the meat of the mushrooms making them impossible to eat.

Another interesting phenomenon is that several people have reported finding morels along railroad tracks. The only explanation I can offer is that trains at one time were powered by coal. The end product of burning coal is clinkers. I'm old enough to remember stoking the furnace nightly after school and removing the clinkers to the clinker pile in the back yard. Kid's today don't know what they're missing! The railroads crushed the clinkers and used them as part of the base for the tracks. Coal and clinkers are carbon products and the carbon deterioration is what's making the mushrooms grow. A word of caution - don't eat the morels found near railroad tracks The railroads spray chemicals to elimate vegetation along the tracks and the morels may absorb some of the chemicals!

In northern Michigan, the black morels have a relationship to white ash trees. In last year's National Championship at Boyne City several of the contestants reported finding their bounty near maple saplings. I've mentioned before about the family in Missouri finding morels growing in the dirt floor of their garage. While filming a mushroom hunting video last year we spent several hours in the timber explaining the do's and don'ts of shrooming in front of the camera. Upon return to the van, we found a lone morel within 20 feet of the vehicle in the middle of the pasture. There wasn't any tree for at least 100 feet. And the two experienced shroomers (including yours truly) had to have walked right over it on the trip into the woods.

We found a new site last year. It's our backyard. Grandpa thinks he mowed over two of them before he could shut the mower off. It's okay, there were about three dozen others he missed. Again, a pasture setting. The only trees were scrubs. The truth is that morels are where you find them.

V. Bourjaily says it best, "The most precise symbol of my annual discontent with the way spring takes its time would be an odd-looking little fungus, with a mushroom stem and a head like a scrap of old sea sponge. This is the morel, a mushroom that grows in pretty good quantity. . .except those places in which I happen to be looking."