Monday, April 27, 2009

A Few Parting Shots

Well with the season drawing to a close and an upcoming trip looming in a few days it has been all work and no play at least as far as morels are concerned. But I did manage to sneak in a few quick last minute walks through some off the beaten path places over the weekend. So here are a few parting shots for the morel season.

This doesn't mean they aren't out there, they just get harder to find as they get overtaken by weeks of hunters and spring undergrowth. Hit the northern slopes or just head north. The MO/Iowa border should be taking off this week after this last batch of a good soaking rain. So, by all means get out there and find them and feel free to share any photos. I always love seeing some great photos.

I have found enough for me this year and hunted for a little over four weeks which marks a better than average season. I did have to walk a lot and hit many more spots to get my fill compared to the especially bountiful last year.

And chanterelles are only a few weeks away if you know where and when to look. If anyone is interested in a summer hunt, I am planning one for sometime in June. Send me an email or leave a comment and I will be sure to include you when I send out the information.

And now for some last photos....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Half Free Morel - just as yummy but only half as much.

I have been meaning to devote a post to these guys for a long time but got too busy once the season started to kick in, so I thought I would work on it now as things start to slow down and I have been able to catch up on all the work around the house that I have been neglecting.

For those of you who also read the Missouri report board over at, you may remember Jason from Nixa, MO talking about finding some half-frees early in the season that did not look like the half-free commonly found around these parts. The common ones tend to look a little like black morels, in that the ridges usually darken and often turn black as they age and they have long stalks. These are more like a yellow morel in appearance and have short stubby ground hugging stalks.

These however, more closely resembled yellows. When Jason first posted pics, many, myself included thought they could be wrinkle capped verpas. A close look-a-like that is often mistaken for half-frees and morels but can cause gastrointestinal distress in many who try them.
However, as you can tell by these photos Jason sent me, they are clearly half-frees. They are clearly attached to the stem on the stalk and not at the cap. Also, the stalk is completely hollow and did not contain any cotton-like fibers as the stalks of verpas do. So, it leaves us with a puzzle.

I asked around on the Michigan Morel Board (a great morel hunters site that I highly recommend) and fellow hunter Steo from Ohio said that he had found something similar that they call "woodsy's" or "spikes" and that he had sent a sample to Michael Kuo's Morel Data Collection Project (MDCP) on

I had speculated that these were a different species in my conversations with Jason, unfortunately, due to lack of funding and time, Dr. Kuo has yet to get all of the samples he received submitted for DNA analysis and this is one. So we may never know for sure, but other DNA analysis of half-frees across the US identified only two half free varieties, one that occurs throughout the US and one that was only collected in Oregon. That led me to speculate that perhaps the differences were in growth stage. And in am email from Dr. Kuo to Steo, he says the same thing. "Your photo looks like a fairly normal half-free to me; when they're immature they often have short stems and pale caps like that." So I mentioned this to Jason, who assured me that they always stay the same and appear this way even when old in age.

I guess we have to chalk this one up to variable conditions and accept, at least for now that until the DNA results come in, some places just produce different looking mushrooms than others. All and all it is a good lesson on trying to identify different species of morels just by looking at them.

By the way, if you have never heard of the MDCP, I would highly recommend checking it out. Basically Dr. Kuo collected morel information and specimens from across the country and ran DNA testing to try and determine how many species of morels exist in North America. More information can be found at: You can find the specific record for Steo's submitted half free at:

Overall, I find half frees very curious. I don't see them too much in the areas I hunt. Actually it wasn't until last year that I found my first, so I know very little about them and always want to learn more. If you have found any half frees this year or in the past, please post a comment or email me with the details. I am wondering if they are found around any certain trees in particular. When I have found them it has always been by a really rotten tree that is to old to accurately identify. I hope someone out there can enlighten me further on these fascinating little guys.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some Report Photos

One of my favorite things about this time of year is seeing all the report photos with happy hunters. Take the one sent in above from Elizabeth and her daughter Claire from St. Charles County. There is nothing better than the look on a child's face when they find their first mushroom.

Even adults get the look when they find their first of the year. Here is Jon's better half Nancy who went out hunting with us today. Found about 25 between us. Not many out there but the ones that are left are getting pretty big as you can see below. With the hot weather coming later this week, it may mark an early end for the season in the bottoms at least.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Scenes from the woods

I'm too busy cleaning, preparing and cooking mushrooms to do a long entry tonight, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I figured I would let some photos from the past few days speak for themselves. The one thing that always amazes me about the morel is the variety of patterns and colors.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Time to get up close and personal

I was stuck at work today so no hunting, but here are a few photos from yesterday. One of the guys who went with me, Ryan, took some great shots with his macro lens getting some nice close ups for me. Here was a nice pair including the largest and heftiest that I found. The bigger one had obviously been up a while protecting his little buddy. It was just smaller than a racket ball.

I say it had been up a while judging by the deep pits and yellow color, which is just my theorizing. I am sure there are many out there, who I like to call the "poppers" who will disagree and say that this just popped up like that. That's a pretty big mushroom and I didn't see any displaced soil from the suspected "popping." But don't get me started with the poppers. All I can say is I have photographic proof of morels growing (more on the growth experiment tomorrow). This being the Show-me state, I am still waiting for the video showing a morel "popping."

For those of you who have yet to find a morel and need some training for the eye. Make the photo below you screen saver and get that image in your head. These times of year, its all I see when I close my eyes. Perhaps that is why I have been having trouble sleeping the last week or so. Lack of sleep also means that on most days I have found a good sack of morels when many hunters are just drinking there coffee.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Growth Experiment - Redux

OK, well every good experiment can't be a success, and I realized the folly of my ways when I returned home from hunting today and checked on my experiment. Instead of a larger mushroom as I had expected all that I saw was one that was completely flopped over. At first I thought, that was fast, but when I opened the lid and the foul smell hit my nose I realized the folly of my ways.

I always have warned about storing bags in plastic bags. If you have ever left a handful of morels in a shopping bag in a hot car, you will know exactly what happened. I should have left the lid off and used glass or a non plastic container.

Luckily, I was out hunting today and came across another much more regal specimen growing from wood. It was fate I tell you. While my morel at home was going bad unbeknownst to me, the shroom gods had smiled down and provided a replacement. Actually I didn't find it, but the person who did, was kind enough to donate it to the pursuit of morel theorizing.

When it comes to morel hunters, theorizing about morels is second only to actually finding morels. I will have to devote a future entry on this subject. I always enjoy hearing a good, or heck even a bad, morel theory about where when and why they show up where they do. But enough about that and back to the newly revised experiment.

Here is the new candidate, a nice ghostly grey. He is actually a little bigger than the old one. The cap measures in at 1 3/4 inches high by 1 inch wide with a 3 1/2 inch circumference.

To avoid any complications with this one it is being stored in a glass container without a lid. Hopefully, this one will turn out a lot better than its predecessor and success will emerge from the lessons of failure.

By the way, me and two others found just under 100 nice ones today right in the heart of Mid-MO. With the warmer weather to come, looks like things are gearing up for a great season.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Growth Experiment - part 3 (day 5 results)

Well here is day 5. I have kept it at a pretty constant temperature around 70 degrees and the growth has been constant as well. It is averaging about a 1/4 inch growth every 2 days.

Day 1: 1 1/4" X 3/4"
Day 3: 1 1/2" X 1"
Day 5: 1 3/4" X 1 1/4"

It is a lot more yellowish in color and getting bigger. It started to lean over and touch the side so I had to reposition it. Instead of going up to 75 as planned I am going to bump it up to 85 for one night and see if such a drastic change in temperature will up the growth rate more than the average. I believe it will, but only time will tell for sure.

Early signs at Rock Bridge

I wasn't able to get out to my usual spots on Saturday because I was volunteering at Rock Bridge State Park. I was too busy to really have a good look around, though I did get to take a quick walk through a few areas in the park where I have known morels to be found before. I think it may still be a little too soon judging by the signs.

Jon, who often takes photos with me, was also volunteering and spent more time on the trail than I. Along the way he found some signs that things should pick up soon in the park so anyone who hunts that area should plan to check their early spots this week if you haven't already.

Here is a false morel (which I'd not recommend eating). This is what many people would call a "red" morel. The thing to note about this one is that it is still relatively young and fresh, appearing to have come up probably early last week. Since these usually come up about 2-3 weeks before morels that means things should start happening soon.

Jon also happened across these nice little half-free morels (which I do eat). They are tasty but not much there so you really need to find a lot to make a good meal. They too often appear a little earlier than true morels. They have a look-a-like that grows in this area called a wrinkled thimble cap. Jon took some good pictures of these half-frees that might help you distinguish between the two. First and most important is the stem. Half-frees have a completely hollow stem (as seen below). Verpas have cotton-like filaments or hairs inside their stems.

Also, notice the cap is pitted like a morel and not wrinkled or folded like the false morel above. Verpa caps are very wrinkled although sometimes this can appear like pits so it is always best to check the stem to be sure. Many people do indeed eat the verpas but there are numerous reports of people getting sick after eating them so it is always better to be safe than sorry. Check out for more information and pictures on verpas.

With these mushrooms up, the morels should be along soon, if they are not up already. I haven't heard any reports from Rock Bridge yet but I am sure they will come in soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Its starting to get good

Sorry, no post yesterday, I was too busy hunting and then taking care of stuff I have been neglecting around the house. Was a good day too, wish I could have spent all of it in the woods, but that's the breaks.

I started out in a southern spot hoping to find bigger ones than I did on Thursday. Speaking of Thursday, me and two other buddies went out and found between 200-250 that day. They were all small to medium greys, which is why I decided on Friday to hunt further south.

I was in a new area I had never hunted before and I forgot my compass so I could not go far. I hunted for about an hour but found only a handful of, once again, small to medium greys. I couldn't wander too far into the woods for fear of getting lost, so I stayed close to where I parked. Either they still weren't that big or I was hunting an area that had already been walked (probably more likely) and was finding the stragglers that were missed. Regardless, since I was expecting them to be a little bigger, I was disappointed and decided to move to another area I knew a lot better and where I also knew they were much bigger. It was about another 20 miles south just to give you an idea.

Boy am I glad I did. I hadn't been hunting for five minutes when I found one mushroom that weighed more than all of the ones I found at the other spot put together. I knew it was on. I called camoshroomer since I was in his neck of the woods and he soon joined me. With my two hour head start on him I ended up with 98 by the end of the day (counting mushrooms from both areas). He didn't say but he had a nice bag and I would guess he came out with at least 40-50. Here are a few photos.

This one wasn't the biggest in actual size but it was the heaviest. As you can tell from the photo the cap is so heavy it is beginning to fall over.

This one was the biggest. It was growing in a curver manner so this picture doesn't quite do it justice, since you can't see about an inch, but it will give you an idea of how big they are getting in the southern part of Central MO.

Most of the ones I found yesterday were just like this pristine white/yellow. Very fresh and between 3-4 inches long. It is nice to finally be into the bigger ones that really put some weight in you bag. If you head south, be sure to take a long a few extra bags in your pocket or backpack, you just might need them. Happy hunting and please keep those reports coming.

Growth Experiment - part 2 (day 3 results)

Just a quick update on my experiment. After two days of being kept in a room with temps averaging 70 degrees, it grew a little bit. On day one it was 1 1/4 inches tall by 3/4 of an inch wide. Now it is 1 1/2 inches tall by an inch wide.

It ha also started to change color ever so slightly losing some of its greyness and getting just a tinge more yellow. Here is a picture.

I am going to bump up the temp a bit to 75 and see if it grows faster. Will keep you posted.

Just a reminder, here is a picture of this morel in the wild. It is the taller one. It was less than an inch in this photo taken last Sunday.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mushroom growth experiment - part 1

I hunted a little this morning in a more northern area to no avail. So, I didn't want to be stumped and headed back south to check on some I had found and left on Sunday. I found about 20 and all were small and very fresh. I think it is just getting started.

Do you remember that small pair of greys I left growing out of buried wood. Well I went back and took a bit of the log including morels, roots and all. I brought it home and planted it in my own little home made terrarium. Unfortunately one of the pair broke off in the bag on the way home so I only have one left.

I had to go to work and it was beginning to dry out on the edges by the time I got home this evening, so I placed it in a lock n lock and quickly got it in some soil and covered the exposed mycelium (roots). I dropped a bit of water on it and closed the lid. An hour later it looked as fresh as this morning, so I think this should work.

My goal is to expose it to place the container in a backroom where I can control the temp. I am starting out at 60 and measuring growth each day, after a few days I am going to take it up to 70, then 75 and perhaps 80. I wonder if I will be able to grow my own yellow. I intend to take daily measurements and record everything with my camera. Hopefully it will work and I can show once and for all that the greys do indeed become yellow for all of those doubters that are out there. Afterall this is Missouri the Show-Me state, so that's what I intend to do.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The reports keep coming in..., I thought I would share a few.

Here are some nice morels found by my fellow Mid-MO bloggers, David and Angie over at the
Family of Four blog.
They happened out in the mists of Sunday afternoon and rounded up what they called "a nice little appetizer."

Looks like they did good, despite the early conditions keeping things from really coming on just yet. Not many people are out just yet and for good reason. It's not easy to find early season morels. You really have to know right where to look or just stumble around the woods by blind luck and come across the right tree.

Talk about trees, here is a nice cluster that was found by fellow hunter, Tim from Lebanon, MO.
He found this along with quite a few more for a total of 106 morels and they were all around one tree. Those seasoned readers will probably be able to guess what kind of tree it was, but for the rest, do a little research and I bet you can figure it out real quick.

Speaking of hitting the motherlode. Did you see this video by from O'Fallon, Illinois KTVI-FOX2? (I hope this works, my first attempt at embedding a video).
Talk about the grass being greener. I wish that was my backyard!!!

Monday, April 06, 2009

The variety of morels

Jon went with me on Sunday to take some of his exceptional photos. Luckily we were able to turn up a good variety. What was interesting was the variety of colors of the ones we found. It is quite possible (and probably very likely) that these are all the same type of mushroom and that their appearance was just due to variable conditions, such as how long it has been growing, exposure to the elements, tree host or even soil condition to name a few.

First, just a reminder of the unseen competition. You ever wonder why a mushroom has been chopped over or has large chunks missing. Blames these little guys. I wonder how well morels go with escargot?
This one is a beautiful grey with tinges of red and white on the edges.

This grey is starting to turn white on the edges and might eventually have become a nice large white. I say might because there was no way I was leaving it behind.

This one seems like the one above but has a reddish tinge. Oh did I say that the last three photos are all of the same mushroom just from different sides. Just shows what even a little differences in exposure can do.

Here are some small yellows or what people refer to as "blondes."

Here was the tallest we found. This one was found on Saturday while out hunting with Camoshroomer - a graceful tall, thin yellow just over 4 1/2 inches.

Last, if you see these guys out there growing straight out of a small half-buried log (which is very unusual to see morels growing directly out of wood), please let them be. I hope to come back and see how they have grown in a week or so.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Will the Cold Kill the Morels?

That seems to be the question on everyone's minds these days. Many people have sent me email or posted comments asking similar questions. It also has been a pretty common concern expressed by many (most often novice) hunters on the various Missouri report boards. I figured it was about time I answered that question.

To be perfectly honest, I cannot say what the upcoming cold will do to the mushrooms. no one can really predict mother nature. After all, the weather is about the only thing that is beyond man's control.

Really, it all depends on where each mushroom is located and how much real exposure it will have to the cold and for how long. That last part is the key as I will get to in a bit. Many of you who have been finding them the last few days may have noticed that some have a reddish tinge. I think this is from exposure to the cold. Note that not all have it because some remain covered and are not exposed but then grow during the warmth the next day and push up through the leaves. I also found a few morels yesterday with blackened tops, which I also believe is due to freezing. These were usually large yellows (3-4 inches). What I imagined happened is that the tips of these were poking up at some time during a nice cold night and they got freezer burn so to speak. But the part under the leaves was protected continued to grow fine once things warmed up.

I think the real question on everyone's mind, is will this be like it was in 2007. For those who may not remember it, the morels came up much the same time they did this year, but a nasty cold spell came through the second weekend of April and froze everything that was up. I remember going out that infamous Saturday morning and finding beautiful morels that were frozen solid. I picked them and when they thawed they were limp and only good if your fried them immediately. Those left in the field fell over and became black and moldy, marking an early end to the season depending on where you lived in Missouri.

But that is not what we are expecting this time. It was prolonged exposure to the cold that took out the mushrooms in 2007. Here the historical data on the cold spell based on Columbia temperature recordings kept in the Farmer's Almanac.
Sat April 7, 2007 -- low was 19, mean temp was 28.4
Sun April 8,2007 -- low was 19, mean temp was 32

You can see that back in 2007, the temp was below freezing for almost 48 hours. That is what you have to worry about, temps below freezing that last longer than 12-24 hours. As long as the night time lows rebound above freezing during the day, everything should be fine. So, based on the forecast, actually, this cold spell has more chance of prolonging the season than ending it.

With this in mind, I welcome the upcoming weather. What we want is a long, cool, wet spring. In my opinion, only three things shorten a season:
  1. A prolonged freeze once they have already come up.
  2. Prolonged warmth (2 days in a row with air temps above 80). This causes them to grow big, fall over, and begin to rot from bacteria and mold.
  3. No rain - no matter what the temp is, if there is no moisture the morels will dry up.
As long as things stay cool and wet we should be in for another great season like 2008.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Some more(l) photos

Here are a few shots from today's hunt. Only had a few hours and didn't hit the motherlode but still found some respectable specimens.

The first loner of the day, sitting all by himself next to a small cottonwood.

It was a day for loners. Probably because most were still too small to see.

Like this little guy I found hiding under the leaves.

Another beauty. They are getting bigger and fattening up nicely.

This one was about 1 1/2 times bigger than a golf ball. Happy hunting.