Several morel mushrooms offer a treat for mushroom hunters who know how to identify and collect these tasty morsels. While morels remain one of the easiest mushrooms to identify, new mushroom hunters should always go with an experienced hunter first. This prevents collecting and eating false morels which may be poisonous.
Morels consist of the fruits growing from a mushroom plant that lives underground. Sporting tall whitish stalks on which a cone-shaped, sponge-like head appears, the fruits range in color from light gray to brown to black. They grow in size from 1/2 inch to over 1 foot tall. True morels always feature a hollow stem that is securely attached to the cap. On the other hand, false morel stems contain cotton-like fibers rather than a hollow stem, and are loosely attached to the cap.
Several species of edible morels grow in Ohio. Inedible false morels also thrive in the state. Black morels are usually the first edible morel to become available and are considered the best tasting. Another edible type includes the gray morel, although it's actually a yellow morel species. The half-free morel is another edible mushroom featuring a tall skinny stem. Two inedible morels include the beefsteak morel with its brain-like dark cap and the verpa bohemica, a pale morel often mistaken for the half-free morel.
When and Where to Collect
Morel hunters usually head to the woods in late March through May to collect the specimens. Most morels often return near the same location year after year, although some years may be more spotty than others. Black morels are usually the first to appear and are commonly found near ash, aspen, poplar and maple trees. Gray morels may be spotted near ash, aspen, apple and dead elm trees. The half-free morel are less common that other varieties, and may be found in heavy foliage.
Finding New Collecting Locations
Collectors know to check burned wooded areas the season after these events occur. Newly logged areas should also be checked for morels during the spring. In early spring, some collectors search the south-facing hillsides where the ground warms up first. Starting at the bottom of the hill and working up makes it easier to see the morels.
In Ohio, no special permits or licenses are needed to hunt morels. One of the best places to hunt is in Ohio's 20 state forests. Some state parks also allow morel hunting, but the regulations of each park should be checked first.