It’s that time of year again, when hunters hit the woodlands in search of that elusive Michigan delicacy: the morel mushroom.
Phil Tedeschi, vice-president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, gave me some foraging tips this month as we walked the woods of a secret location somewhere in Washtenaw County.
Tedeschi, a retired computer programmer from the University of Michigan, is an amateur mycologist, a hobby he's had for 47 years. "I love hunting mushrooms, love eating and cooking with mushrooms," he said.
Finding the right habitat
“Gonna be looking for cherry trees and for tulip trees also called tulip poplars," Tedeschi says. "Those are good habitats for white morel. The black morels grow in different habitats, they’re mostly in white pines and poplar trees. This time of year it’s going to be the whites that are out."
"They’re in a symbiotic relationship with the tree. The tree provides carbohydrates and sugars. The mushrooms provide nutrients and water and protection from diseases for the trees."
There are three species of morels: whites, blacks and half-frees, Tedeschi says.
"The blacks come first in the spring, then the half-frees, and then the whites. They did a major ecological burn here so they’ll be popping out very easy to see," he said.
"I’m looking for white to yellow color mushroom. Sometimes gray. It will stand out from the forest pretty well now."
Check the weather
"Finding morels is very weather-dependent, and we’ve had a lot of rain this spring so there should be some out here," Tedeschi advises.
Early spring is when the morels start to pop. Once it gets into the upper 70s and 80s, Tedeschi says the season is over.
"A mycologist in our club named Ed Grand started hunting here," Tedeschi says. "He brought me here for my first morel hunt, and I found 100. He found 150 that night after work.
"He came here with his parents and hunted here and a couple of other spots along Huron River Drive. They found 2,400. Now there’s are more people in these woods than there used to be, so probably won’t repeat that, ever."
Connecting with other hunters
It's important to know what you're looking for. For that reason, Tedeschi suggests connecting with an experienced hunter who can identify the mushrooms. The Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club offers public hunts and member-only hunts year round and across the state.
Although we struck out on finding white morels, by chance we ran into someone who did find a few. Preya Shah, a mushroom hunter from Rochester Hills, showed us her find. Ironically, she learned how to hunt with Tedeschi years ago.
"One of the mushroom hunts on the weekend, we had thirty people in the woods, most of us found one or two," Tedeschi remembers. "One woman came in with twenty nice ones, just happened to be at the right place. Rest of us didn’t find that spot. It’s called mushroom hunting, not mushroom finding."
Want to find out where to hunt? The Michigan DNR's mushroom tracker website is a good place to start.
Large burn sites in forested areas are ideal for morel mushroom hunting, especially in burned areas where jack, white or red pine once grew. Grassy and other non-forest areas are not as likely to produce morels.
This map shows large prescribed burns (10+ acres) or wildfires that occurred last year.