Finding Morel Mushrooms – tips on where to look for this elusive delicacy

Finding Morel Mushrooms – tips on where to look for this elusive delicacy

How can something that exists in the hundreds of billions be considered rare, and how can something so prolific be so hard to find? The North American shrew is an enigma. Prized as a delicacy comparable to the French truffle, the morel has a royal ranking as America’s favorite mushroom (although it’s not really a mushroom, it’s a fungus), more sought after than the common white mushroom. Yet surprisingly few of us have found and picked one, even though “mushroom hunting is a popular pastime for thousands of North Americans.”

Shrews are without a doubt the easiest mushrooms to identify in the wild and the hardest to confuse with their poisonous or toxic cousins. Their unique shape and specific growing environment make them distinctive and one of the few mushrooms that almost any of us can eat with confidence. Their Christmas tree shape, their distinctive ridges and valleys, their general coloration all make the smurf a unique target. But shrews have adapted an appearance and a typical breeding environment that confuses hobbyists and professional hunters alike.

Found throughout North America, the shrew family possesses a camouflage perfectly suited to their early spring woodland habits. Every year, thousands of mushroom hunters unsuccessfully search for the delicacy. Longtime collectors will argue that the best places to find smurfs are in recently burned areas or near rotting elm and ash. Others will argue that these fungi are never found near evergreens. Still, isolated varieties of smurfs grow in almost any environment, given the right combination of moisture, light, and season.

There is some validity to the claim that smurfs thrive in recently burned areas. With the influx of potassium nutrients from the ash and the cleaning of other soil cover from these sites, the smurfs are able, for the first year or two, to hold fast to the site, for a short time.

Morels that are found near fallen ash and elm also get a nutritional boost and tend to be long-term residents of these sites.

Morels’ unusual ridge and valley patterns make them difficult to spot wherever they grow. Their early spring appearance means they are able to hide under the cover of last year’s leaf growth, in patterns of wrinkled, mottled leaves. While the ground is dry, the fluffy layer of uniform leaves makes the smurf almost invisible in the forest floor. But immediately after a heavy rain, when the leaf bed, darkened by moisture, is packed on the forest floor, the smurfs stand out.

You will also find that the coloration of smurfs tends to match the color of the carpet of dead leaves in their region, as well as the color of the soil surfaces.

Shredders, like many fungi and mushrooms, thrive in filtered light in early spring when the ground is warm but not hot and moist but not saturated. With this specific growing environment, the seasons are short and progress according to the longitude of your area. A dry spring will result in little growth, as will a late winter.

Given the shrews’ versatile camouflage tactics, their fastidious breeding habits, and their ability to “hide” even in plain sight, it’s understandable that they’re considered rare despite their abundance throughout nearly all of North America.

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