Morels (Morchella esculenta) are one of the most easily identifiable spring mushrooms found in Wisconsin. The growing season starts in the middle of May and runs through the middle of June and seems to coincide with the Morel Mushroom fever that strikes Wisconsin each spring. This is a great time to be in the woods, the underbrush hasn’t gotten too thick, the mosquito numbers are still low, and the daytime temperatures are often very pleasant. Weather dictates the start of the growing season and the number of morels you may find. Warm, wet springs usher in bumper crops, while cold dry weather makes the search more challenging, and you may only find a handful.
Where and how to look for Morels
As with all mushroom hunting, your first forays into the woods should always be with a seasoned mushroom hunter. Though the morel is one of the easiest of fungi to identify, to the inexperienced, the False Morel mushroom could be picked by accident. For some, this dangerous look-alike can lead to some major GI distress if eaten by mistake. If this advice makes you hesitant to run off into the woods to start popping mushrooms into your mouth – good! There is an old adage among those who seek these wild edibles, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters. But, there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
Your mushroom mentor will bring you to an area where you may or may not stumble across these woodland delectables. Regardless of your success, you have now entered into an agreement to never, ever disclose the location to anyone else! While on site, you are looking for signs of dead elm trees. I have also found them in the open - far from any trees, in overgrown orchards, and along city sidewalks (most cities had the streets lined with elm trees until the Dutch Elm Disease wiped those majestic canopies from the boulevards).
Whitnall Park is a great place to get your feet muddy searching for this widely foraged spring treat. However, if wandering through the woodlands is not your cup of tea the village of Muscoda, straddling Grant and Iowa counties in the western part of the state, hosts the annual Muscoda Morel Fest this May 19th through the 20th. Wandering through the food and craft stalls you will find more mushroom related goodies than you can imagine. The festival is a fundraiser for the community.
The “morel” of the story is wandering into the woods in search of morels is a tradition that should not be missed. This springtime adventure is a short-lived opportunity; morels stay with us for only a few weeks each year.
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