It is that time of year again. Morel mushrooms
in their various forms are on the threshold again--a time outdoor folks
anticipate for months--and as per usual, the questions roll.
First off, I am besieged by questions every year
about this time, the most important being: “When will morels be up? But
there are other queries, and I will try to offer some of the things I have
learned in three-quarters of a century of mushroom hunting in Indiana.
Taking first things first, I must say that there
is no way to say when the morels will pop. I do like to think morels will
make their grand entry about the time spring beauties paint the forest
floor a stunning pinkish-white, but before this plant starts to seed. If
bloodroot and twinleaf (very similar
flowers) are in bloom, a good part of the mushroom season has fled northward.
Still, there is the age-old theory among “morellers”
that “big yallers (yellows) are up when lilac bushes bloom, blue or white,
or any other color, presumably. I saw this adage fail for the first time
last year, but it was very dry where I hunted. It was a good year in other
parts of the state.
Another morel question I often hear at this time
of year is: Where do mushrooms grow? In my humble hunts and haunts, I tend
to gravitate to the feeling that more than 60 percent of the morels are
under the influence of dead elm trees
(bark slipping and hanging loose). However, my experiences have told me
for many years that mushrooms are, like bass, rabbits and many other children
of nature: where you find them.
For many years my very authoritative, adamant
reply was “certainly not” when I was asked whether morels occurred under
stands of Mayapple (a wildflower). It is widely thought they do not.
Then, one day as I approached a large patch of this wildflower) there perched
under the flowers was a huge yaller. To add insult to injury of the ego,
my son-in-law started finding blacks and whites under Mayapples. The Mayapple,
incidentally, puts forth a beautiful white bloom . . . but you have
to put your tummy on the humus to view it point-blank.
Back to trees. I find mushrooms under many tree
species. Once I stopped to rest near a big shagbark hickory tree, and as
my eyes swept the forest floor around my respite, a bumper crop of huge
yellows popped out all around me. I just sat there--my back to the tree--counting
before I entered on my find.
I find morels and, a phalanx of other mushrooms,
around such other tree species as sycamore (shaggy bark), American beech,
tulip poplar (our start tree) blackberry patches, and other tangles of
brush, the theory being that such bastions stop mushroom spore (seeds)
as they ride the winds, then fall to the earth to produce mycelium.
If a hunt is not producing morels, one can always
turn his/her efforts to harvesting the Dryad’s
Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) to have food for the table. It
occurs on the sides of dead trees, primarily dead elm, but it may show
up on any tree. This polypore (pores,
not gills) gets a bit tough with age and size but smaller, young specimen
are fairly good (though chewy). I slice the caps about an eighth of an
inch thick (if I find no morels) and sauté
the strips in olive oil with no breading. The Dryad’s Saddle moniker
is derived from the fact that it resembles an old time tractor seat. It
reaches very large proportions. Pores may be removed or left on.
DNR has some complicated boat regulatory rules. If you are a would-be boater,
the rules should be checked to avoid being cited. Fish and wildlife areas
and some other waters have special regulations. Check! Stay legal!