Elusive and delicious, morel mushrooms are a wonderful springtime delicacy in Michigan.
I love to spend my weekends each spring walking through the woods and searching for morels in Michigan. Like most people, I will not tell you my favorite locations, but I can give you a few tips on where to look.
If you are new to morel hunting, the easiest way to get started is to drive around in late April to mid May and watch for people slowly walking through the woods carrying mesh bags. (Mesh bags are encouraged in order for the spores of the mushrooms to be dispersed as you continue your hunt. Hopefully this will help increase or maintain the morel population.) Though you are not likely to find a large quantity of morels in easily visible or popular areas, it is a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the type of terrain that the mushrooms are likely to grow in and possibly talk with someone who is experienced with mushroom identification.
Morels are very unpredictable as to where they will grow year to year. I have found them in fields, forests, the edges of paved roads and even in landscaping wood mulch in busy metropolitan areas. To make it more complicated, in places where I have found many morels one year, I will not find any the next. That said, my favorite places to look include old orchards and areas that have been logged or been burned sometime during the last several years. If you find a good area, please let me know where it is; I will be sure to keep your secret.
To assist you in your search, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has created an online interactive map that shows the state's wildfires and prescribed burn locations.
When out in the woods be sure to:
Carry a compass and/or GPS.
Dress appropriately for walking in the woods, keep your skin covered and wear boots or closed toe shoes.
Beware of ticks.
Mushroom hunting is a wonderful family activity, and kids are great at spotting morels.
Once you have a location, the hunt really begins. I like to walk slowly scanning about a five- to ten-foot section of ground with my eyes. My father's method, however, is to walk at a good pace with his eyes focused out about twenty or thirty feet. We make a good team with these two methods; he tends to find the largest morels and I find the smaller ones. When he spots a mushroom, I will often search the surrounding area and locate several small ones that he had overlooked. As for the time of day that I like to go, I have found that the lighting in early morning makes for the best contrast to see the mushrooms.
There are several different types of morels that grow in Michigan including black, yellow and false morels. Some false morels are poisonous and can cause you to get sick, sometimes fatally. To avoid picking and consuming false morels (they have a longer stem and the cap attaches near the top; they look somewhat like an umbrella), I recommend that you purchase a good mushroom identification book or download a copy of the Michigan State Extension Service 50 Types of Poisonous Mushrooms PDF. Better yet, go with someone who has experience with finding morel mushrooms.
When you have found a morel, cut the stem near ground level. Please do not pull it from the ground; leave the root system intact in order to encourage regrowth.
If you would rather eat them than hunt for them, there are a variety of farm markets and roadside stands in Southwest Michigan which sell these delicious spring time treats. Enjoy!