Episode 40: Morels Part II


Nature Boost
Morels Part II

[Music playing.]

Hey there and welcome back to another action packed episode of Nature Boost. I'm your host Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

So . . . a little background. A few years ago I recorded a morel mushroom hunting episode with state botanist Malissa Briggler. And if you remember, we were unsuccessful in finding this coveted springtime mushroom. I have to say, I have been pretty miffed about it ever since. Granted, we did only go out hunting one afternoon. So, I didn't commit a lot of time but I was still disappointed.

This season I made it my mission to find a morel. And I am taking you with me. Now, I know this episode will drop in mid-May which is past the season for morels. Prime time is late March to early May. But who knows, depending on the weather you could still find one, or this could be good info for next year, or just an entertaining episode. Let's hope it is all three.

First before I take you with me. Let's recap about this fungus. Morels commonly appear after warm moist spring weather when day time temperatures hit low 70s and night time temperatures hit the 50s. Here in Jefferson City where I live, we have had a lot of rain recently. Today is actually supposed to be a fairly nice day. So I think we are kind of finally hitting that groove where we are getting into the warmer spring temperatures and the cooler night time temperatures.

So they also seem to be found on dead and decaying trees. Species like elms, ashes, and cottonwoods. I have read that places that have experienced flooding, or fire, or logging can also produce a lot of morels.

And finally, if you are looking early in the season you should look on south and west facing slopes. If you are hunting later in the season, you should look for morels on an north and east facing slopes.


MDC's Mushroom Field Guide which is available online is going to help me a lot on this adventure. So I can correctly identify morels which I am crossing everything. Fingers crossed I actually find one! I want to watch out though. You want to watch out for the toxic mushrooms, poisonous mushrooms including false morels which are poisonous and they look obviously kind of like morels. I will be taking the field guide with me for that helpful info on identification.

I am not sure how long it will take but I am determined to eat a morel this year. Everyone says they are so good and they have hyped them up so much and I love mushrooms. I am just mad that I haven't had one. I need to know what all the hype is about.

So let's do this.

[Music playing.]

Okay so we are pulling up to a spot where I normally just go to walk my dog. It's in the woods. We will see if I can find something. I am not holding out much hope just because it's just my first day and I do anticipate this to be a multi-day adventure, whenever I can find time. I do feel a little hopeful because we've had a lot of wet weather recently. A lot of rain. It has warmed up the daily temperatures and it's been very cool at night. So the wet weather combined with the warm highs and the low temps has me hopeful because that is kind of the sweet spot where you want it.

What do you think, Moe? He doesn't really care. He just wants to go for a walk. Okay. Here we go. We are pulling up. We are pulling up.


[Birds chirping.]

Do you hear these birds? I hope you can hear these birds out here. They are so vocal right now!

And side note, I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago and studies have shown that just listening to a bird call for a few seconds can make you happier for like 8 hours the rest of your day. If you want to start your day off on a good start, get outside and hear the birds because science has shown it has lasting impacts. It kind of reminds me of those Audubon clocks that everybody's grandparents used to have in their house where each stroke of the hour was a different bird call. Love that! Love that nostalgia!

Come on, Moose. We gotta find these shrooms! These morels. Hot, isn't it?

[Birds singing.]

How pretty out! I wonder if this is a record temperature for early April.

Okay we are back on the trail. We didn't see anything on that part. I know up here there is some more down trees. It could be favorable. Oh wait! Here's one. I just gotta check it out. Let's look. Let's look.


You never know, man. You never know. Hmm. I see some little baby mushrooms! They kind of look like little . . . button mushrooms. They are definitely not morels. There is something.

Well, I found some mushrooms but not the ones I am looking for. It would just be too easy if I found one on my first day. But you never know. Alright, let's keep going. Let's keep going.

Here we go. I know that way is east! Oh! There is a groundhog running down that slope. I almost didn't see it. They are so funny.

I know this slope up here is west facing. Let's look! Oh, that is a big rotting log! That's what I want to see. And on a west facing slope. Moosey! We might have hit the jackpot. What do we see?

Nada. Not a mushroom in sight. That's okay. Hey, get out of that water! Moose, no! You just got groomed! Get out of the creek! Moosey! Come on! Aggh. You're muddy. I may need to make my mushroom hunts and dog walks separate. Pretty wildflowers, though.

Oh my God, is that Dutchman's breeches? Is it? Oh my God! Dutchman's breeches is a spring wildflower and oh my God it is! I found Dutchman's breeches, guys! And I can actually identify it! Oh and there is spring beauty! There they are! I have never seen them in real life. I've only ever seen pictures of them. I need to take a picture. Even though we didn't find any morels, I got to see other stuff! The Dutchman's breeches and the spring beauty and hear all these amazing birds this morning.


Okay, it wasn't a successful morel hunt. But, a successful hike for sure!

[Music playing.]

Okay! Day 2. Beautiful day. And I am hopeful to find some mushrooms. Let's head on out!

[Music playing.]

Aww, there is a zebra swallowtail already out. Beautiful!

Okay, so elm trees. How do you identify an elm tree? Because morels like to grow on dead decaying elm trees. I can't really identify dead ones from their leaves, obviously so obviously you have to look at the bark. The bark of an elm is rough and coarse with intersecting ridges. The color is a light gray to dark grayish brown. Well, wikihow that sounds like every tree to me. [Laughing.] If it is a decaying tree, I don't think we can really go on color. It's just going to look dead. Let's see what we find out here.

This could be a dead elm tree. It looks like a coarse bark with intersecting ridges. I could very much be wrong. Nope. Nothing nothing nothing.

Okay, here is another one. It is so hard to tell. I'm not sure. This could be an elm or a Cottonwood. Nope!

Oh oh oh! Here is something. Here is something!

[Music playing.]

I don't think so. Let's keep going.

[Music playing.]

One way or another I'm gonna find ya! I'm gonna get a mushroom, mushroom, mushroom!

Do you hear that?

That's me not finding a mushroom.


We have been out here for an hour now. Moose is getting hot. I think we are going to call . . . oh, look at the cardinal! I think we are going to call Day 2 a day. I'm not discouraged yet. Make no mistake. This journey is not over.

[Music playing.]


Okay, so it is Day 3. I know it is still fairly early. We are only in the second week of April. But I still haven't found a morel. I see a lot of people online posting pictures of their mushrooms they have found. It is making me insanely jealous. I need to know if there is something I am missing or not understanding if I am just looking in the wrong places.

I have enlisted some help. I contacted my old friend. He is the manager of Runge Nature Center here in Jefferson City, Kevin Lohraff. The man, the myth, the legend. He has generously agreed to fill me in on this mushroom. Let's go talk to him.

Tell me what I am missing here.

You may not be missing anything but there are some criteria that you do need to know when you are looking for mushrooms and morels especially. They need the moisture in the ground and they need the ground to be warm enough. It usually happens in April sometimes. But it really depends on the combination of both moisture and warmth.

Okay. We've actually had some decent weather recently but we have . . . it's been awhile since . . . it's been a week or so since we have had any rain. There are some areas in Missouri where people are already finding morels but here in mid-Missouri it still is pretty early.

Yeah, that's right. It is true. You can find morels earlier in April, sometimes the end of March. Down in southern Missouri where things warm up you know a week or two earlier than in mid-Missouri or north Missouri. So you can just kind of imagine the progression from south up to north.


You know I have been fixated on looking for the dead decaying trees of elms, and cottonwoods and . . . is that what I should be looking for?

Uh, yeah, I mean that's kind of the trees that I target. Ashes, and also elms. But, you can find morels under oaks and hickories too. But if you only focus on two trees it would be ashes and elms.

For people who don't know, how do you identify those?

Ashes and elms. Ashes often have a real kind of consistent bark almost in little pieces.

Are those ashes?

Yeah, that one in the back is.


Then, elms have almost kind of a flaky bark. And elms you will also find in wet areas like around streams and rivers.


And ashes can be mixed in a lot of different forest areas. But yeah, if you need help we got tree ID guides, we got staff and nature centers, and staff all over that can help you identify those species.

Okay. Anything else you think is good for a beginner?

Keep track of the warmth in the air. We've got an article in The Conservationist now a lady has been morel hunting for 70 years this May. She says wait until you get a constant overnight temperature of about 55. That will warm things up. Then you need to wait for the rain, right after it rains.

If it is real dry you might focus on bottom areas where it stays moister. Then the north and east facing slopes will hold more moisture.

Then if it is cooler, you might go to the south and western facing slopes because they get more sun and they will warm up sooner. Because remember it is the combination of warmth and moisture.

Warmth and moisture, that is what you need to keep in mind. Okay!


I appreciate the tips! Thanks, Kevin!

[Determined music.]

Okay! April 26th. I believe this is my sixth day of mushroom hunting this month. Obviously I have been really unsuccessful so far. I thought I would have found one by now but boy was I wrong! So today . . . I don't have much hope for today. Based on the great insight that Kevin Lohraff gave me, it hasn't rained. We have had a dry spell. We kind of need the rain. But you know what, I got a little time today so I thought, "why not?" I am heading out to Marion Access in Cole County to see what I can find. We shall see!

Pretty dry out here. Mushroom hunting has got to be one of the most . . . at least in my opinion, infuriating pursuits. I know there are mushrooms somewhere. Again, like I said earlier, we haven't had rain in awhile. Today is probably not the best day to go out. But I had some time so I figured "why not?"

When I was talking to Kevin Lorhaff, the manager of Runge, he was telling me how there are some people that start in Texas and they go season long and they travel up north you know state by state as the morels start popping up to hunt them and gather them and sell them. They probably make a fortune. Man, these babies are precious! I just hope I found one.

If not today, and if not even this season, next season. This may be an ongoing Nature Boost storyline where every spring I continue to try and find one. I hope it is not. But it very well could be.

[Determined music playing.]

Alrighty, guys, I am going out again today. Morel hunting! The saga continues! And I am very excited. I just have a good feeling today that it is going to be successful. I don't know. Do you ever just wake up sometimes and you are like, "I'm going to have a good day today!"


You are just in a good mood. That's how I feel about today's adventure. I'm just putting all the good vibes out there. I think it is finally going to come true today. Let's head out! We are heading out now. Let's go together!

Do you want a copy of your receipt?

Hi, I would like the fried morels.

How much would you like?

Is that only that amount?

Yeah, you can do half, you can do three quarters.

I think just a quarter pound is good. I also want to try the morel soup. We also need a water.

So, $21.00.

Okay, perfect.

[Multiple conversations.]

Oh my God, look at that! Thank you! Can we get another spoon, too?


Thank you, ma'am!

I have to try this. I can't wait anymore. This fried goodness. We are finally going to see if the morels are worth the hype.

Is this everything you have dreamt of?

They're good. They have a good texture. I hunted and I found them. I am counting this as a successful morel hunt.

[Nature Boost theme music playing.]

Did I find a morel in the wild? No. Did I find one at the Morel & Microbrews Festival in Fulton earlier this month? Yeah! And I'm counting that! I had a feeling that my mushroom trips would not turn up a morel mushroom so I had a Plan B to attend that festival and I'm really glad that I did.


So now I want to hear from you! Do you have tips for me regarding mushroom hunting? Send me a message and tell me your story at missouriconservation.org/natureboost and in return I will send you a Nature Boost t-shirt and maybe we can even record an interview for next morel season. Thanks for listening to this month's episode. I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation, encouraging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.

[Music playing.]

[End episode.]