Hunting for morels in Pacific Northwest forests

One thing I enjoy above most other activities is getting out to the forests and finding interesting flora/fauna and impressive views.  Hiking ridgelines is preferable, since views on both sides are sometimes visible, and eventually a crest allows for views in all directions.  It’s nice, and quiet.  I like quiet. and I like mushrooms.  Sometimes I like taking photos of mushrooms, while other mushrooms demand more personal attention.  Morels are one of those mushrooms.

But aren’t they difficult to find?  Well I suppose that is a loaded question.  Yes, they are difficult to find in several respects.  First and foremost they blend with the landscape incredibly well.  Areas like gold hill where the surrounding debris and forest floor is very light in color the morels come up “blonde”, without much to separate the mushrooms from the leaves and rocks. In the high elevation forests where the growth is more spread out and porous volcanic rocks abound, the morels take on a darker tone which makes then another rock if you aren’t looking harder.  And then there is the area to search.  How the heck do you know where to look?

Usually I don’t know.  But with that said, most of the forests surrounding the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon are going to have morels growing from late march (weather permitting) through I don’t even know when.  That’s right, I don’t know. Go easy on me, I’m new.  One thing I have been this year is fortunate.  Fortunate to have friends who do know, and are willing to show me, albeit with a blindfold for the car ride on occasion.  Some people are really territorial about their “spots”.  But other people are welcoming and helpful.  I went hunting for morels early April and met a seasoned forager deep in the forest, atop a ridge, and after a strange first impression I found myself being led from jackpot to jackpot.  I’m new, so I didn’t see anything, but my imprompteu guide would look my way from some 50 yards away, tell me to stop, get low, and see the mushrooms under my feet.

How he knew was mystifying to me.  He just knew where they grow.  They like certain habitats and conditions, which vary from area to area depending on surrounding vegetation.  If you’re hoping this post will tell you everything you need to know about finding morels, then you’ll be disappointed, because I really don’t know.  I have heard that early in the season the lower elevations are best, especially on southern facing slopes.  I have also been told that the best time is when it’s pissing rain outside.  Maybe because it’s less likely for a lot of people to be out in the rain, but true oregonians have no trouble getting a bit wet.

Without further adieu, here is the eye-candy.

Slowing down, and crouching down is the only way to find these little gems. Once you find a few, you start forming a concept of the types of conditions necessary for these to pop out of the habitat.  Once you know, you can stop and take time to closely inspect the areas most likely for growth.  Once I was ready to leave, or had to leave this hunt to go to a night class, I couldn’t stop finding them.  Taking a tent and spending a few days at a location would allow for some familiarity, leading to high yields for the aware collector.  It’s like gambling to me, once you hit a win it is so hard to stop.  And even after deciding to stop several times, that “last one” can spark the interest to encourage more seeking behavior.  At least I won’t lose the farm while wondering the forest.

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