COLUMBIA — The climate is finally right for hunters of the elusive morel mushroom to search fields and forests in hopes of finding a few of the edible fungi. Morel mushrooms thrive in Missouri’s climate, and countless mushroom enthusiasts across the state venture outside every spring for a few weeks a year to find them.
Bruce Moltzan, research scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said morel growth depends on the right combination of temperature, carbon dioxide, nutrients and moisture, and it’s almost impossible to tell whether a given season will be hit or miss.
“In my opinion, I would encourage folks to go out and start that process now.” Moltzan said. “There is a two to three week window that people want to gather, and it is just starting in mid-Missouri, but farther north they aren’t ready yet.”
Moltzan and the Department of Conservation recently published an article on the effects of the unusually rainy spring on morels.
“Areas that have a lot of standing water are not likely to produce mushrooms this year,” Moltzan said. “But morels can hold up against all sorts of environmental conditions.”
Moltzan said he has been morel hunting a couple times this spring and recommends hunters search south-facing slopes and areas with old apple or elm trees.
But like any smart hunter, Moltzan won’t reveal his favorite spots.
“I like to start by following deer trails into the woods,” Moltzan said. “And when I’m not looking, that’s when I find them.”
Stan Hudson, known in the mid-Missouri morel world by his blogging name “ahistory” is the creator of missourimorels.blogspot.com. Hudson has become a local expert on all types of mushrooms and frequently blogs about his mushroom hunting experiences.
Hudson said he wants the Mid-Missouri Morels and Mushrooms blog to be the medium through which hunters talk to each other when the spring season arrives.
“I’m hoping that come spring it will be a place where people can report some finds and stuff and so I can collect some information on mushroom hunting and pass on some of my tips,” he said.
Early reports on Hudson’s blog indicated that some morels found were soggy or under water, but Missouri Mycological Society past-president and board member Maxine Stone said once the ground warms up, conditions for the morels will improve.
“Usually by the middle of April we’ve found some good ones,” Stone said. “But the morels are a little slow this year. In southern Illinois and Arkansas they are finding them, and I think by this weekend it (hunting) should be pretty good in the St. Louis and Columbia areas.”
Stone said the peak morel season is usually mid-April to mid-May, so while the mushrooms were a little slow this spring, they are not too far behind schedule.
Stone said she is an avid outdoor person and hiker and said mushroom hunting was the perfect fit for her since her interest in mushrooms began in the early ’90s.
“It’s a passion,” Stone said. ‘I hunt all types of mushrooms — not just morels — from April to November. It gives me a high and a rush of adrenaline. There’s something elusive about mushrooms that my heart just goes pitter-patter every time I find them.”
Stone said hunters can find morels anywhere, but she recommends woods, old apple orchards, and dying elms and cottonwood trees as good places to look.
Morel hunting tradition makes many hunters secretive about the locations of their finds, and Hudson’s blog is no different, though Hudson said he gets requests on his blog for tips and often takes groups morel hunting with him.
“I generally tend to not mention specific locations (on the blog),” he said. “I won’t specifically say what part of the river I was at. As far as trees go, there are people who keep even that a secret and I’ve never followed that philosophy.”
Stone offered one final piece of advice to mushrooms hunters: “The more you look the more you find, and I think this weekend is really when the good morel hunting is going to begin.”
Missourian reporter Greg Wasserman contributed to this article