Column: The morel of the story


Commentary by Mark LaFay

Spring season is finally upon us. But let’s be honest, while the vernal equinox may have come and gone, the threat of snow never ends until May and the sound of racecars can be heard faintly in the distance. Indiana’s tormenting weather patterns aside, the warmer average temperatures do mean that we are officially at the beginning of morel season. I am an avid outdoorsman and, in addition to spring turkey hunting, you will find me and my boys walking the woods in search of the ever-elusive morel.

Morel mushrooms are very finicky and very hard to cultivate commercially. They appear only in the spring, and once the temps get warm enough, they stop fruiting and lay dormant until another trip around the sun has been completed.

If you’ve never been mushroom hunting, morels are a great mushroom to get started on. They are very easy to identify accurately, they taste amazing, and when you find where they are growing, they will almost always continue growing there as long as you harvest responsibly.

Here are some tips for morel hunting:

  • Morels will start to pop up when average soil temps are between 45 and 50 degrees and air temps are above 60 degrees. You can check soil temps online. There are several websites that track this.
  • Look for elm trees. You can identify an elm tree by its bark. Morels will grow in the ground, not on wood, around elm trees where their bark, sticks, leaves, etc., fall and decay.
  • Harvest responsibly. Pinch the morel off at the base, leaving the root in the ground. Mushrooms are organisms that live and grow under the surface, so they can grow back. The mushroom that you pick is the fruit and is responsible for spreading spores, which grow more mushrooms. That means you should carry your mushrooms in a netted bag so that spores can be spread as you move through the woods.

A word about safety. There is only one mushroom that remotely resembles the morel, and it is called a false morel. They are similar but very different in appearance. If you have any doubt in your mind, false morels are solid. Real morels are hollow. Cut it open and look.

Lastly, morel honey holes are top secret. If you know other people who hunt morels, don’t ask them where they go. They will, at best, lie to you, and at worst, get angry with you for asking. That means you must find the spots yourself. When you head out around Boone or Hamilton counties looking for these delectable fungi, try public parks, like Cool Creek. It is legal to take mushrooms from Indiana DNR-managed property. Dormant spores could come back to life after construction and other agitation of the soil, so walking the wooded edges of a cornfield conversion is another good option. When you stumble upon one morel, don’t move, look around to see where there may be more and pick carefully. Then promptly email me your GPS coordinates. Happy hunting!