If you are interested in hunting morels, you might already know this type of mushroom hunting “is serious business.”
It’s so serious, in fact, that many hunters “refuse to reveal their morel spots even to their closest friends and family,” according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Not only that, but the mushrooms can be tricky to find – “sometimes a morel seeker feels lucky to find just one” – and there are toxic imposters to watch out for.
Still interested? Whether you’re preparing for your first hunt or in need of some refreshers, here’s what state wildlife officials say you should know as you hunt morels in Missouri.
What are morel mushrooms?
Morels are a type of wild, edible mushroom known for their deliciousness. But you probably would not know it if you spotted one in the wild.
The three morels species found in Missouri do not exactly have an “appetizing appearance,” officials say. “Its brain-like form looks like something out of a campy horror movie, and a morel’s neutral, earthy color does not command much attention.”
But that means the mushrooms are great at camouflaging into their environments, making for a fun hunt and “often a family tradition spanning generations.” While common in Missouri, the special fungi are “notoriously hard to locate against the forest floor.”
When is the best time to hunt morels?
Now is a great time to hunt for morel mushrooms as the spring weather brings moist, warm conditions, experts say.
Experienced hunters typically search for morels from late March through early May – and officials specifically say “late April is a good time to find morel mushrooms.”
Morel mushrooms are most likely to appear when daytime temperatures are in the low 70s and nighttime temperatures are in the 50s, according to MDOC.
One trick you can use to remember: “Morels peak when lilacs bloom!”
Where will I find morel mushrooms in Missouri?
“Morels are finicky fungal organisms,” the state conservation department said. “The underground portion of the fungus only produces mushrooms in some years – mostly based on soil temperature and moisture availability (but other factors play a role, too).
“Ultimately, most of what we know about finding morels is anecdotal and widely variable,” experts say, but they also provided the following tips for hunting morels statewide:
- When hunting in the early season, look on slopes that face south and west. If you’re on a late-season hunt, try searching north and east facing slopes.
- Look around dead trees – specifically elms, ashes, cottonwoods and domesticated apple – but watch out for falling branches as you do so.
- “Loads of morels” can be found in areas impacted by floods, fires and logging.
- They can be found in “moist woodlands and in river bottoms.”
“Remember, these are just general guidelines – morels have been found growing in all sorts of locations and conditions,” officials said.
Before you go hunting, you should know that most public Missouri lands do allow for collecting mushrooms for personal use without a permit, but officials say you should always double check specific area regulations.
How do I know if this mushroom is a morel?
Morels are “hollow-stemmed mushrooms” with a conical cap that’s covered with pits and ridges. Officials say the caps can look like a sponge, pine cone or honeycomb.
“In black and yellow morels, the bottom of the head is attached directly to the stem,” MDOC says. “In half-free morels, the bottom half of the cap hangs free from the stalk. In all cases, the stems of true morels are completely hollow. ”
What are toxic ‘false morels?’
One of the most important things to know when hunting morels is that there are lookalike mushrooms that can cause illness and death.
“False morels” might have wrinkled and brain-like caps, and they come in several different colors. But, officials say they “differ from true morels in obvious ways” if you know what to look for.
The lookalikes might have caps with lobes, folds or wrinkles, but it will not have pits or ridges like a real morel, according to MDOC. False morels, when sliced right down the middle, will not have a completely hollow cap and stalk like a true morel.
And if it is not spring, you are likely looking at a false morel as true morels are only found in that season in Missouri.
“It is safest to consider all so-called false morels toxic,” officials said. “While some people have enjoyed eating them for years and may even consider them a favorite wild mushroom, several types of false morels have definitely caused serious illness and death. Whether they will sicken you or not depends on cooking techniques, type of mushroom, and your own sensitivity. We do not recommend eating them. ”
Experts say you should always be positive you have a safe, edible mushroom – and cook it thoroughly – before eating it.