Monthly Archives: March 2012

Waiting for Morels

Yellow morels from 2011.

The morels are teasing me again, flaunting their spongy faces and cooperating beautifully for foragers throughout much of the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard. Whether you’re from Mississippi or Michigan, chances are you are finding morels, and flooding my inbox with tongue-tickling photos of juicy blacks and yellows.

At first I tried to keep my cool. Since I am in Northern Vermont, reports of Missouri or Kentucky morels were not enough to send me into a frenzy, even when shroomers complained about “only” finding 47 morels.  

Soon, the morel sightings started to trickle northward – Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, oh my! Even this I could handle, though I must admit to getting a bit too excited by a piece of egg crate foam in a field near my house that momentarily resembled a baby morel.

Then, yesterday afternoon as I was sitting down for lunch, an email arrived with “early season black morels!!” in the subject line. I opened it, expecting yet another envy-inducing report of someone hitting a honey hole (shroomer parlance for an epic patch) in the wilds of southern Appalachia. But as I looked closer, I realized the morels were found at “an undisclosed location” near my former home of Ithaca, New York last Friday, March 23.

Sure, the fellow had just found a few small blacks, and Ithaca is over 100 miles south of Burlington, but the find hit too close to home for comfort. While it is highly unlikely that we will see morels in Vermont before mid-April, especially given the recent bout of colder weather, the Ithaca report flicked an irreversible switch in my brain.

After receiving the email, I couldn’t sit still, so I went for a stroll on Burlington’s picturesque waterfront bike path.  I stole a few quick glimpses of the sun-soaked Adirondack Mountains across Lake Champlain, but it took great willpower to pry my gaze from the ground. The cold, dry soil looked decidedly inhospitable to morels, but this did little to halt my hunting. Soon I started to grow dizzy and began questioning why I wasn’t just taking in the view and smiling like the rest of the recreationists on the bike path, but there was no turning back.

Watch out for the morel's poisonous look-alikes, including the beefsteak shown in this photo. Unlike the beefsteak, true morels should always have one continuous hollow cavity that extends from cap to stem.

I convinced myself my hunting was “productive” despite the remote odds of discovery – after all, I was scoping out good black morel trees and practicing using my forager’s eyes after their winter hiatus. Perhaps I was even getting a smidgen of exercise as I slowly paced around the trunks of massive cottonwoods, my neck craned and my gaze fierce. Still, I wondered how odd I must have looked to the bikers, joggers, roller skaters, and loping dogs that paraded by and tried not to stare at the lanky man slouched over on the side of the path.

To all these well-intentioned recreationists, don’t mind me. It may be a few more weeks until I find a morel, but one of these days you will see me walking home looking decidedly triumphant.

The March of the Morel

Nothing beats the deep delight of finding a morel (or two!).

Northeastern foragers, watch out – the mighty morel is marching your way at a staggering rate! Morels are already fruiting in West Virginia and Ohio, and I expect them to arrive in southern Pennsylvania within the next week. This means morels should be fruiting two to three full weeks ahead of schedule throughout most of the region.

So what does this mean for our new state of residence, Vermont? The first morels typically fruit in southern Vermont the first week of May, arriving in Chittenden County about a week later.  This year, I will start looking for half free and black morels the first week of April if this current weather pattern continues. By the first week of May, I wouldn’t be surprised if blacks had come and gone and yellows were peaking throughout the Green Mountain State. My predictions do come with a disclaimer: morels fruit when and where they please. Just when you think you finally have a good grip on their fruiting habits, they may throw you for a loop. 

Found on May 2nd in Ithaca, NY, this black morel was my first find of 2011. Despite being further north, I expect to find the first black morel earlier this year.

Just because morels are arriving early this year does not necessarily mean foragers should expect a bumper crop. In fact, though I am certainly hoping for many a morel feast this spring, I am quite concerned about this season’s harvest.

Morels favor days with highs around 60 and lows in the lower 40s. We have already had a couple 60 degree days in Burlington, and next week’s forecast calls for temperatures hitting 80! Theoretically, a morel in a warmer Vermont microclimate could fruit any day now, but common sense says there is no way we will see morels in Vermont for at least another couple weeks.

By then, will local temperatures be too warm for morels to fruit altogether? Morel fruitings depend on a delicate and enigmatic balance of timing, temperature, nutrition, precipitation, and carbon dioxide levels, so it is easy to imagine this spring’s bizarre weather interfering with the 2012 crop.

Then again, the capricious nature of global warming may demand we throw all notions of “common sense” regarding seasonality out the window, so who knows? Perhaps a tiny morel primordia is already forming near the base of an old apple tree somewhere in the depths of Vermont.

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