Of the many varieties of easily distinguishable, edible mushrooms growing in North America, none are more well-known than the morel. Morels are the hardest to confuse with poisonous or toxic cousins. Their unique Christmas-tree shape, their distinctive ridges and valleys, their common coloring all make the morel a unique target. Morels possess a camouflage ideally suited to their early spring woodland habits, blending into dead leaf ground cover, matching the sandy or gravelly soil on which they grow, or remaining hidden underneath a few loose leaves.
Ideally, morels like a rich organic soil that is found in decaying leaves of such trees as ash and elm (although they will enjoy other deciduous decay). The soil has to be sufficiently loose to allow for the network of tendrils to develop under the leaf trash carpet of a woodland or grassy area, but have the right ph balance, and the ability to hold moisture without becoming waterlogged.
Gentle to moderate slopes of wooded hills and mountains provide that rich soil, the filtered sunlight, and the gentle air movement required. Deciduous forests with modest undergrowth frequently suit morel growth, as do the edges of woodland trails, where grasses are not too tall.
Many morel hunters do well in the year after a “burn” of an area, or in areas where there has been a surface disturbance of the soil, such as a logging event. Probably this is due to two factors: the injection of nutrients that are released into the soil, and the elimination of other plants that may have choked light and moisture or blocked sunlight from the smaller morels. Some people will claim that morels are never located near evergreens. Yet, isolated varieties of morels grow in almost any setting, given the right moisture, light & season combinations.
You will probably have your greatest success if you look in these key areas after a rain, when grasses and dead leaves are compacted by the rain, allowing morels to thrust above this compacted debris. By calculating where optimum conditions may exist for morel growth, and selecting the ideal time and day to hunt, you will increase your success rate dramatically.
Fortunately for morel lovers, morels grow in almost every state of the USA and province of Canada, and in part of Mexico. They officially are found in all but the Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico, Florida & Georgia, Alaska and Hawaii and the provinces of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland-Labrador. Yet, at least three varieties are common in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan, one found in northern Georgia, and one in the eastern regions of Alaska.
Morel types range, from the common yellow morel and black morel to the half-free and western blond morel. While each is specific to a region, many of the types identified are almost indistinguishable from the common yellow or black morel.
Generally, morels are found where winter temperatures reach near or below freezing on a sustainable basis, where deciduous forests allow filtered light during the late spring season, where daytime temperatures are not above 80F during the fruiting season, and where the spider-like rooting networks are able to penetrate and spread in the soil substrate.
Regardless of where they are found, morels make a delectable side dish, or a key ingredient in any of a variety of meals. For more information on morels, visit www.morelmushroom.info.
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