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Pinch, Cut or Pull?

I often get asked if it’s best to cut a morel or pull it out of the ground. My answer is always the same, “How crunchy would you like your morels?”

Morchella are a class of mushrooms that are known as being Saprophytic. These organisms collect their nutrients by absorbing them from rotting and decaying matter. In particular for Morels that would be tree roots.

The mycelium is the living body of of a mushroom. It is a web like structure spanning underground that taps itself into decaying matter to survive. Then when it’s reproduction cycle starts it begins sending growth above ground which we identify as “mushrooms”.

Now here’s where a lot of speculation comes in to play. Everyone has varying opinions of what happens when you cut a mushroom, or pluck it from the ground. Some believe you damage the mycelium when you rip a mushroom up. I personally disagree with this. I believe it will actually promote mycelium growth, granted this is just my opinion.

Others believe that if you cut a morel at the base with a knife you leave a “stump” that is vulnerable to rotting and spreading infection underground into the mycelium. I doubt it. I don’t think it’s any different than the mushrooms that do not get picked and are left to finish sporing, and rot away naturally.

Choose how you want to harvest your mushrooms and go with it. But if you’re pulling them make sure to break off any dirt before you put them in your bag. You’ll have an much more enjoyable culinary experience when you aren’t grinding your expensive dental work down with fine gravel.

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A Not So Extraordinary Season of 2021 So Far!

I wish I had a great and exciting mushroom report for this year’s on-going morel season but it seems cold temperatures and dry weather have hampered our time in the woods so far. We traveled 6 miles on foot the last 2 days with an embarrassing amount of morels to show for it.

I’ve seen varied reports of some people doing well in NW Michigan, it seems the lakeshore areas are producing much better than the central counties. Now with 3, below-freezing nights and snow forecast for the southern counties, I’m afraid we’ll see a big impact on the rest of the season. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!

Big News!

I’m working on some major and exciting changes for The Mushroom Hole you might see bits and pieces here and there in the coming weeks. Check back in often, I’m not letting the cat out of the bag just yet, but soon!

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Four Signs for Morels

We all know spring is the time for morels but for those of us with busy schedules who want to reap the reward of their time spent foraging, or even for the beginners, who are unsure of when the best time to start looking, there are good indicators that we see daily that scream “it’s time!” These four blooms go hand in hand with morel season. When you see them, get out there!

Eastern Red Bud
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Morel Season 2020

It’s looking to be an early start to the season and a really weird one! I’m sitting here wondering, with the current state of affairs, how many people will even be in the woods this year?

Schools are closed down here in Michigan, bars and restaurants are now closed to dine-in patrons, and there’s a lot of talk of a nationwide shut down, not even excluding enacting martial law. Are people in the big towns even going to be allowed to leave to go shrooming?

The Mushroomhole is wishing the best for everyone. We are the strongest nation in the world. We will get through this! Stay safe, don’t panic and don’t forget to use hand sanitizer after you pump gas on your way to the woods!

What better way to practice social distancing though right? Good luck everyone and full bags!

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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 )

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.

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Grifola frondosa “Hen of the Woods, Maitake”

    Grifola frondosa is a polypore mushroom found mainly on oak trees and dead stumps in the late summer through autumn. I have never found one on any other kind of tree other than red oaks but it is said to grow on other hardwoods as well. I would’ve personally called them “Grouse of the Woods” as the remind me more of a ruffed grouse than a chicken.

Underside of Grifola frondosa

     Grifolas are in the top 5 of my favorite mushrooms to harvest. It doesn’t take more than one day of finding them to usually have enough for plenty of meals, they can grow very large, 10lbs+! Grifola frondosa has no poisonous look-alikes, although Meripilus_sumstinei “Black staining polypore” has similar features but much larger, wider caps that bruise and turn black with time. Grifolas grow from a central stalk, in large clusters of small petals. Much like a head of cauliflower. Grifolas have white pores under the caps and a white spore print.

    Some people can have allergies to this mushroom so as with any wild mushroom, never eat more than a small amount the first time you eat them. Once you know that you do not have any reaction to these very popular edibles, they are excellent in many sorts of dishes. I have had them fried, in soups, chili, roasts etc. Yum!!

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Laetiporus sulphureus “Chicken of the Woods”

   This species of bracket fungus can be found summer through fall growing on dead or dying hardwoods (usually oak). While it is not rare to find them during the summer months, I usually encounter these mushrooms more often in the late summer/fall months. This polypore is very easily distinguishable and has no poisonous look-alikes. (The Northern Tooth has a similar appearance but it is a white colored fungus and so tough you can barely cut a piece off a tree). It’s not uncommon to find a downed tree in the woods covered with 20+ pounds of this mushroom!

        Laetiporus sulphureus stand out in the forest with their bright orange/yellow colors. The spore surface is also a bright yellow and these are surely one of the prettiest mushrooms in the woods. There are also Laetiporus cincinnatus with look almost identical but will grow in a rosette shape and have a white spore surface.  Both are excellent finds and make a delicious meal.

   As always with all mushrooms, you should only try a small portion if you’re eating them for the first time, Laetiporus species have been known to not agree with some people, however they are a very popular edible and worth trying.

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Cantharellus cinnabarinus “Cinnabar Chanterelle

    Choice and a delicious edible. Found in early autumn in mixed hardwoods. Easily identified by the reddish orange color, pastel appearance and false gills commonly having spreading veins in between. The spore print will be white to a light pink color. When cut they will have a white flesh inside. Cinnabar chanterelles are generally very small and delicate and have a sweet fruity fragrance similar to apricots.

**Care must be taken when harvesting as there are similar look-alikes including the poisonous Jack-o-lanterns “Omphalotus olearius” and the red waxy caps.**

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Armillaria mellea “The Honey Mushroom”

Armillaria Mellea

Armillaria mellea also known as honey mushrooms or “stumpers” is a choice autumn edible and one of my favorites. Found growing in large clusters around dead oak trees and stumps and occasionally on the ground following the decaying roots.  They are easy identified by the size of the cluster, white ring under the cap with a golden yellow outer edge, white spores and a solid white pith inside of the stem.

**Caution should be used when harvesting Honey mushrooms as a dangerous look-alike Galerina autumnalis can easily be mistaken for a honey mushroom. The deadly Galerina will be found growing on dead wood, spread out, not clustered and has a brown spore print. Study both species well before you harvest honeys for food. Mixing in a Galerina will be a fatal mistake that you will only make once.**

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Craterellus cornucopioides “Black Trumpet Mushroom”

Craterellus cornucopioides, or horn of plenty is very delicious and sought after by mushroom enthusiasts and chefs alike. 

Found in early autumn in hardwoods around oak and beech trees. These mushrooms are delicious fresh or dried. There are no poisonous look-alikes to these when they are found in the late summer/fall, however Devils Urns have a slight resemblance but are found early spring.