Morel mushroom-hunting season begins in Missouri. Here’s what to know before you hunt
Every spring, mushroom hunters forage through Missouri forests in search of elusive morel mushrooms.
While morel mushrooms may look “like something out of a campy horror movie” with their “brain-like form,” these fungi are actually known for their great taste, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Because these mushrooms can be hard to find, state wildlife officials said “many folks refuse to reveal their morel spots even to their closest friends and family.”
If your mushroom-hunting loved ones are the type who keep their best tips to themselves, the Missouri Department of Conservation has some expert advice for you.
Here’s what to know before you hunt for morels in Missouri.
What is a morel mushroom?
When people hear “wild mushrooms,” they often think of morel mushrooms, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“Morels are treasured for their delicious flavor and the fun of the hunt, often a family tradition spanning generations,” officials said.
Experts are aware of at least three morel mushroom species that can be found in Missouri.
“All are hollow-stemmed mushrooms emerging from the ground in the spring, with a somewhat conical cap/head covered with definite pits and ridges, resembling a sponge, pinecone, or honeycomb,” officials said. “In black and yellow morels, the bottom of the head is attached directly to the stem. 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.”
Where can I find morels in Missouri?
“They can be harder to find than an Easter egg, but morel mushrooms are worth the time and effort to find,” officials said.
These “finicky fungal organisms” can be found statewide, but experts said you’re more likely to find morels in these places:
Along south- and west-facing slopes in the early spring
Along north- and east-facing slopes later in the season
Among elm, ask, cottonwood and apple trees, including the dead ones
Around areas that have been affected by floods, fires and logging
Though these are great places to start, the department said “most of what we know about finding morels is anecdotal and widely variable.”
Morels have also been found in other locations and growing in various weather conditions, officials said.
When should I look for morels?
Late March through early May is the best time to hunt for morels in Missouri, according to state wildlife experts.
The mushrooms typically appear after warm, moist days when the daytime temperatures are in the low 70s, officials said, and the nighttime temperatures are in the 50s.
“Morels peak when lilacs bloom,” officials said.
Are there morel lookalikes?
One of the most important things to remember when hunting for morels is that there are toxic lookalikes also growing in Missouri.
“Don’t confuse true morels (Morchella spp.) with similar-looking species that could make you sick or possibly kill you,” officials said. “Don’t eat any wild mushroom unless you’ve identified it as a safe edible and have cooked it thoroughly.”
These “false morels” may also have wrinkled and brain-like caps, but experts said there are ways to tell them apart:
Fake morels do not have pits and ridges
True morels are hollow down the middle, while the impostors are not completely hollow
Morels can only be found in the spring in Missouri, while the “false morels” grow year-round
“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.”
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