Mushroom Hunting: Dangers in the Woods

By Tom Nauman

Wow! We received our first reports of morels in central Illinois from Darrel near Galesburg, who found 187 black morels on March 31. Terry from LaSalle reported finding several small greys on April 2. Darrel doesn't want his last name revealed because he really doesn't want you following him. Terry only picked two just to prove to co-workers that they really were out.

All indications are that this is the earliest season that anyone can remember - ever. We even got reports to our webpage of morels in west central Michigan in March! That's unheard of! At home we were able to spend an hour in the woods on April 4 only to be disappointed. We waited until the 11th before we were able to get out again and found about 9 small grey morels fairly quickly. The current weather pattern seems to be alternating between several warm days then several cool rainy days. If it continues, we should be picking well into May.

We keep getting asked where to find them. And, since this is our busiest time of year, I'm going to reprint an article from February of 1997 titled "Here's where to find 'em". It's very good information that, if followed, will help you find some. Good luck.

Where did you find those at?!

It's probably the most asked question of successful mushroom hunters. While some may tell you (make sure they look you in the eyes!), most won't. I don't give out my GPS coordinates either. But, I will tell you where I'd look in your woods and I've probably never been there.

We're speaking about morels here and morels have a relationship to dead elms. I have found hundreds of morels that weren't anywhere near any kind of elm, but if you're looking for the mother lode, it'll more than likely be within 30 feet of a dead elm or a patch of dead elms.

Dead elms are fairly easy to recognize. Next time your driving down the road and see a timbered area look from the top of the tree canopy to about half-way to the ground. In Illinois, those trees that are missing their bark and the bare wood is a whitish grey are dead elms. That won't help you much though because you probably don't have permission to hunt there and dead elms that are missing most or all their bark are beyond their mushroom producing days.

The dead elms you need to find are the one's that have passed away in the past couple of years. So now you have to get into the woods. Find the dead elms that are just beginning to lose their bark. The bark usually falls away from the upper limbs first. In fact, some of the smaller upper branches and twigs have fallen. As other trees start to bud, dead elms don't. So another clue is the absence of buds or leaves. So, to find mushrooms, you look down. To know where to look down at, you have to look up.

Within a year or two of dying, white speckles appear on the bark of a dead elm. This is the perfect tree! If there aren't any mushrooms near it's base, you're either too early or your wife got there first. If you see where they've been picked, get home quick before she eats them all!

What's the relationship between dead elms and morels? Even the experts don't agree. You have to remember that the spores of morels are everywhere. I believe that as the elm starts to die, the sap runs from the tree back into the root structure, disperses from there into the ground and acts as some kind of super fertilizer to begin the growth cycle for the mushroom. Also remember that from the time the spore starts to grow, it'll be two seasons before mushrooms appear. So the mushroom growth cycle begins before the tree is completely dead. There is even the possibility that the mushroom is what's causing the tree to die.

If that's not complicated enough, let's discuss where the dead elm tree and accompanying morels may be located. Generally speaking, if it's early in the season, they will be on the south edge of the timber or on the south facing slope near the top of a hill. The sun warms these areas first. As the season progresses the morels begin appearing further into the woods, further down the south side of the hills, and near the top of the north facing slope. Until finally, near the end of the season, they appear at the north edge of the woods and in the bottomland.

Just when you think you've got all this down pat, Mother Nature blesses you with several really warm days with about an inch of rain each day and the mushrooms are running amuck everywhere, wrecking havoc on every theory a mushroomer ever heard.

Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.