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Morel mushroom hunting in full swing in Michigan; here are tips to find them

Posted at 1:41 PM, May 19, 2023

It's mushroom hunting season in Michigan, with people throughout the state looking for morels to both use in cooking and selling.

Karen Chouinard runs an international paint company, and Jeremy Funke owns Vista Shine Window Cleaning and Powerwash, but every year, the power couple carves out time in the hectic schedules for morel hunting.

“She puts in 40 hours of morel hunting a week," Funke said.

Morel mushrooms are considered to be the king of fungi. They are typically only grown in the wild, so they need to be hunted, not farmed, making the find sublime.

“You see that big morel or a big patch of morels and you’re like 'huh?' It takes your breath away a little bit, ya know?” Funke said.

Harvesting these sacred mushrooms is a sport gaining popularity, with foragers and enthusiasts creating groups and scheduling weekend excursions.

As you can imagine, finding morels isn't easy. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources posts spots where you may get lucky, but it's not guaranteed.

"Part of what the map does is show where recent prescribed burns," DNR Ecologist Greg Hardwood said. “And sure enough, what often happens is you have an influx or an abundance of morels, it’s no guarantee.”

Now going on a morel hunt can be a little intimidating, but here are three tips for you.

First look for dead trees. Second, it has to be the right temperature, and here in Michigan, there is about a 2–3-week window for each type of morel mushroom. Finally, texture. It’s a really good idea to look at a picture of a morel before you go on your hunt so you can train your eye to what you are looking for.

Those tips come from the experts, Karen and Jeremy, who were gracious enough to let us tag along with them.

Morel mushroom cooking tips below

Tips for cooking morel mushrooms found in Michigan

About 30 minutes into our hunt, we found one.

The DNR also has tips to spot the difference between morels and morel lookalikes.

"All species of true morels found in Michigan have one characteristic in common: their caps (heads, tops) are pitted with little hollows, as if holes had been punched partway through them. The pattern of the pits varies from species to species, but all have them. False morel species may be ridged, wrinkled, waved or even quite smooth, but they do not have hole-like pits. True morels are also hollow inside," the DNR said.

The true morels are White morel, Black morel, half-free morel an burn-site morel.

White morel

The common morel, often called the white or gray morel. Its color varies from light cream to gray to yellowish-brown depending on habitat and age. The hollow cap is attached to the stalk at base. The common morel is perhaps the easiest of all edible spring mushrooms to recognize, and is therefore widely collected.

The white morel fruits in the latter half of May. It is found in a wide variety of habitats, primarily under hardwoods, including old orchards, beech-maple forests, oak woods, burned-over meadows and occasionally lawns. Occasionally found associated with conifers, especially white pine

Black morel

The popular black morel, or eastern black morel. Its color varies from gray in young specimens to almost black in older ones. Its hollow cap is attached to the stalk at the lower edge and can be up to seven inches tall.

Black morels are usually the first true morels to appear in spring, fruiting in early to mid-May under ash, aspen, cherry and occasionally under pines. The crop often peaks when serviceberry bushes are in full bloom.

Half-free morel

Commonly called the "half-free" morel because the cap is detached from the stalk about halfway down, resembling a skirt. It is similar in color and general appearance to the white morel but is usually smaller.

The half-free morel fruits abundantly about one year in three on moist humus in oak-hickory and beech-maple forests.

Burn-site morel

The burn-site morel may appear in conifer forests the first year after a fire, and more rarely two years after. Its hollow caps are conical or nearly round, and on mature caps, ridges are dark brown to black in color.

Tips from the DNR about collecting and preparing wild mushrooms.

  • Cut mushroom stems with a pocket knife to collect. 
  • Collect mushrooms in a mesh bag. 
  • Select only fresh, young mushrooms that show no wormholes, damage or decay.
  • Clean mushrooms with a brush or by washing and drying thoroughly. Open lengthwise to check for any bugs that may be inside. 
  • Refrigerate collected mushrooms in a paper bag.