Morel mushroom hunting is a deliciously addictive and secretive springtime activity. May is morel month in Michigan, however, depending on the weather and location morels can be found in the Upper Peninsula anywhere from mid-April to mid-June. The trick is finding them. Morels seem to grow wherever they feel like growing. They can be found in forests, fields, along the sides of roads and even in the landscaping around buildings in large cities. Morels are very unpredictable as to where they may grow year to year, locations where they have been found one year, may not produce the next.
Morel mushrooms are hard to farm and are highly sought after for their delicious taste. At times fresh mushrooms can sell for upwards of $30 a pound in area grocery stores and farm markets. As a result, hunters rarely divulge the locations of their spots. However, with a little knowledge, some scouting for the right trees and conditions, and a little luck, you can discover your own secret spot.
The right temperature for morel growth
As soon as the snow begins to melt, hunters eagerly await the right conditions for the morels to start growing. Temperature is critical. Ideally for morels to grow, the daily temperature needs to be in the 60s with an evening temperature in the mid-40s or higher. Morels and many other fungi like warm soil. Because of this, the side of a hill that gets more warmth from the sun will generally produce mushrooms first. Additionally, warm spring rain helps spur the growth.
Learn to identify the types of trees morels tend to grow near
It is hard to predict exactly where morels will be, but having an understanding of the types of trees that grow in an area will help you select potential locations. Apple, ash, poplar, oak and elm trees are generally well-known to be great for morel mushrooms especially if there are dead or dying trees. Many people have different beliefs about which types of trees are best for morels, so you may find them near other tree types. Morels have a mycorrhizal relationship with some tree species. When trees die and the fungus starts to lose its source of food, it produces the fruiting body (morel mushroom) in order to create spores to reproduce and disperse.
Disturbed and burned ground
As mentioned, morels can often be found near dead and dying trees. As a result, areas with disturbed ground or that have been burned can be very productive. Look for locations that have been torn up by heavy equipment, logging, new ditches, new dirt roads and previously flooded areas. Additionally, look for areas that have been recently burned; information on burn sites in Michigan is available on the DNR website.
Finding the right mushrooms
The shape of morels can range from rounded to pointed and their color can be black, gray or whitish-yellow. True morels, the ones that you can consume, have a hollow stem and cap. The cap is pitted with little hollows (the pattern of the pitting varies), and the edge of the cap is joined to the stem. However, in half-free morels, the stem attaches to the cap about a third of the way up. False morels are poisonous and can look similar to true morels. False morels often have a stem that is filled with a fibrous structure and the stem and cap join at the top (like a partially unfolded umbrella).
The best advice to people new to foraging is to go with someone experienced with identifying morels. If you are headed out on your own be sure to use reference materials like a printed guide or app to help you identify mushrooms and any other items you are foraging for. Additionally, it is important to cut open the morels, remove any bugs or slugs and wash them thoroughly before cooking. It is critical to cook them well; never eat raw wild mushrooms. Overall, remember that it is always best to err on the side of caution, a misidentified mushroom could be deadly.
Additional tips for successful morel mushroom hunting
Cover a lot of ground and do not give up early; it may take time before you find a productive spot.
Because you will be walking a lot, be sure to wear comfortable and appropriate closed-toe footwear and dress in layers so that you can adjust to the temperature and weather.
Train your eyes. If you are hunting with others, ask them if you can see any mushrooms they find before they cut them. Ideally, have them tell you a mushroom is in a given area and then try to find it yourself. Morels can blend in with the environment and be hard to see. As a result, it can take time before your eyes adjust to spotting them.
If you spot a morel, get down close to ground level and scan the horizon. If you find one you are likely to find more in the same area. Getting down near ground level gives you a different perspective and may help in finding other mushrooms nearby.
Cut the mushroom stems with a knife or pinch them off, and never pull them up from the ground to avoid damaging the underlying mycelium.
Use a mesh bag or an open weave basket. Plastic bags can speed up decay due to a lack of airflow and condensation. Additionally, a mesh bag or basket can potentially allow for the dispersal of spores.
Bring a compass, map and GPS. Forests in the Upper Peninsula can be quite extensive and being able to safely navigate out of the woods is critical.
Pack a first aid kit, water, suntan lotion, mosquito/tick spray and a phone; it is always wise to be prepared in case the need arises.
Enjoy a day in the woods with your kids
Morel mushroom hunting is a great family activity, and kids are great at spotting these elusive fungi. Pack a lunch to bring with you while out foraging or a small camp stove, pan, some water to clean the morels, and a little butter and fry up some fresh morels. Nothing tastes better than a freshly cooked meal in the woods. Even if you are not successful in finding morel mushrooms, you are bound to have a wonderful day hiking. If you are quiet and look up from the ground now and then you are likely to see whitetail deer, a wealth of birds, and possibly foxes or even a moose.
Storage and cooking morels
Fresh morels are always best. However, if you happen to be lucky enough to get more than you can eat they can be preserved. The best method is to dry them using a food dehydrator and then seal them in an airtight container and possibly freeze them. Preparation of fresh morels can be as simple as frying them in a little butter or more complex like stuffing them with cheese, coating them in batter and deep frying them. Dry mushrooms can be rehydrated using water, chicken stock or milk. Previously dried morels are a great addition to soups and sauces. If you forage for other spring edibles or fish, be sure to try cooking morels with ramps, fiddlehead ferns, wild asparagus and trout. If you do not have any luck finding them yourself, you can seasonally purchase fresh morels at some farmers markets. Additionally, they are a popular springtime addition to restaurant menus.
Plan your stay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Spring is a wonderful time to be outdoors. The cool days are perfect for outdoor sports like biking, hiking and kayaking. Additionally, spring is great for fishing, enjoying wildflowers and the spring melt results in even more impressive raging waterfalls. We recommend staying in the Upper Peninsula for a long weekend or if you can, a week to enjoy what this wonderful area has to offer. You can find a detailed list of accommodations on our lodging page. Be sure to visit our breweries, wineries and restaurants, too. You will delight in relaxing with a delicious meal and locally crafted beverage after a day of hiking in the woods. Make sure to bring a camera along with you to capture your springtime adventures. We love seeing your photos, so please tag us in any social posts #uptravel.