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Aspen Oyster Mushrooms

The Aspen Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus populinus)

The Aspen Oyster mushroom is a late spring delicacy commonly found on dying or dead Big Tooth Aspen trees and their logs and branches on the forest floor. These mushrooms are easily distinguishable by their overlapping layers, whitish pink spore prints and their wonderful anise aroma.

Pleurotus populinus are a pretty cool mushroom. The mycelium hyphae form noose traps deep in the decaying wood where they trap and feed on nematodes (microscopic worms) that are also eating the dying tree. How cool is that! Finding these is also a good indicator that the yellow morels are up as well.

Be careful with these mushrooms as they can look perfectly fresh and clean but inside of them they can and commonly get infested with beetle larvae.

Always tear them in half and look inside. If there are tunnels there are bugs.

Ewww they looked fresh.

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Lasting Memories

It seems almost like a dream, staring up the hillside at an endless patch of pine-cone sized black morels. That is my first memory of mushroom hunting with my mom. I was 3 years old. I don’t remember much else of that day in the hills of Glennie Michigan other than that brown paper grocery bag heaping over with mushrooms, but from that day on I was hooked forever.

Hunting for morel mushrooms turned into a lifelong passion for me. Over the years I have studied and learned other edible mushrooms to forage for, so morels in the spring is now just the beginning of a spring through autumn adventure in the woods of Michigan.

For me being in the woods searching for mushrooms is much more rewarding than just a bag of good eats at the end of the day. Exploring new areas, observing wildlife and passing down the knowledge and tradition to my children as my mom did for me, seems as much as a part of the circle of life as life and death itself. I get more of a thrill watching my kids find a mushroom and picking it and hearing them say excitedly “there’s 3 here, and 2 more here, and more over there!” That’s what it is all about.

My mother and I have spent many days in the woods together filling our bags, finding new spots and walking ourselves weary. Sadly she is slowing down now and can’t go very far anymore. In turn I have turned to my responsibility to taking my family and teaching them as I was taught and I still deliver some of the bounty to my mom so she can enjoy a nice meal. It sure isn’t the same without her there in our favorite spots that her and I found over the years.

Thankfully I am blessed with a few daughters who love nature and being in the woods looking for mushrooms. My youngest who is now 6 likes to walk closely behind me and say “dad you missed one”. She does it quite regularly so I don’t know if I’m losing my touch or should be wearing my eye-glasses in the woods. She is quite a trooper, she done a 6 mile hike just this last weekend and never complained once and she put more mushrooms in my bag than I did.

She thought she was pretty sneaky when her mom said “found one” so she hurriedly ran over to her and picked it and then ran back and put it in my bag. Things quickly escalated the second time when she tried a second sneak and steal and mom made her put it in her bag. Oops, now we have a crying child in then woods.

Over the years we have made so many good memories in the woods. We have found fallen trees that were hollow, packed with hundreds of pounds of honeycomb, found baby deer, turkey and grouse nests full of eggs and even had a mother woodcock fly a few feet away and pretend she had a broken wing to get our attention while her tiny babies ran all around our feet cheeping and chirping. It’s all of those little things that last a lifetime.

A sea of may apples

We have witnessed a major boom in mushroom hunting popularity mostly caused by the internet. Finding spots that haven’t been picked before you get there is getting harder and harder. Deforestation is also booming and it seems like they like to clear cut everyones favorite mushroom woods first! Keep your spots to yourself unless you want growing amounts of competition year after year. Please respect nature and take out whatever you bring with you. Dirty diapers, cigarette butts and beer cans can sure take away from a beautiful day in the woods. We’ve seen it all.

Most importantly, take your time enjoy the little things and have fun making a lifetime of memories! Teach your children, so when you hurt too bad to make the long walks you still get a bag of mushrooms at the end of the day!

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The Half-Free Morel

Morchella punctipes

The half-free morel (Morchella punctipes) is the cause of a lot of confusion in the mushroom hunting community, especially for beginners. Although it is easily confused with a Morchella look-a-like called a Verpa (Verpa bohemica) it is in fact a true species of Morchella and perfectly edible. As with any mushroom, if it is your first time consuming them start with a little bit. You can still be allergic to this mushroom as with any of the morels.

In the following photo you will see a cross section of the half-free. It gets its name due to the way the stipe attaches halfway up to the top of the cap. You can see this clearly here and also note that the stem is completely hollow. Half-Free morels also have the classic pits in the cap that look carved out, versus the wrinkled up cap you will see on a Verpa.

Note the extra space at the top after the stem connects half way inside the cap. A Verpa stem will connect all the way at the top and have a cottony pith inside the stem.

Now let’s take a look at the Verpa bohemica, the most common morel look-a-like. Verpas may fool you from a distance but after studying a few you will quickly be able to distinguish the difference easily. Notice this verpa below, the cap is very wrinkled, unlike the defined, carved pits that a true morchella has.

Verpa bohemica a Morchella look-a-like

Now let’s take a look at a cross section of a verpa. Notice how the cap connects to the step all the way at the top. Also, notice the stem is not hollow.

Verpa bohemica

I hope this helps you identify a good edible from a morel look-a-like which is still listed as edible with caution. New studies are actually showing more people have been sickened by morels than those that have been sickened by Verpas. Personally I leave the Verpas where I see them but I will pick and enjoy all of the Half-Frees that I can!

Happy Hunting!

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The Yellow Morel

Morchella americana (prev. Morchella esculenta)

The last and largest of the morels to fruit in the spring, the yellow morel is the king of all of the morel species. Morchella americana starts to appear around 3 weeks after the black morels start.

Yelow morels start to appear as small baby grey mushrooms. People commonly refer to them as the “grey morel” however they are just an immature stage of the Morchella americana.

A young Yellow Morel (Morchella americana)


Don’t be to impatient and pick these young babies as they will grow for weeks as long as they do not dry out or freeze. A small dime size grey can grow into the size of a baseball! (See https://www.mushroomhole.com/morel-growth/ )

A hat full of little greys can turn into a bushel basket of big yellows in a couple weeks time. Don’t expect to see much of a change in growth over night, or even a couple days. They take time to get big. The wait is worth the reward. Cover them up if you’re worried about someone else finding them!

Morchella americana can be found in all kind of places, dying elm trees, ash trees, aspen stands, white pines, old orchards, and even in fields and along road sides with no trees around. I always have my eyes open for them in the spring. They can even be found in the city growing in parks and yards.

These were left to grow for 2 weeks, had I picked them when I first found them they would have filled a small bowl
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The Black Morel

Morchella angusticeps

The black morel is the first morel to appear in the spring. A very hardy and cold weather resistant species, the black morel can be found soon after the first snow melt and a few warm spring days. As with any morel they will start as tiny babies and need time to grow.

The black morel usually fruit in large patches in a variety of habitats including aspen stands, mixes hardwoods and pines. The color of the black morel makes them one of the hardest to spot in the woods. They are slightly more delicate than the other morels other than the half-frees but are packed with flavor and are the favorite of many foragers.