Finding Black Morels – The Wild Mushroom Season Begins

This is the year of earliness – from the heat wave that hit us at the end of March (March!) to the apple blossoms opening at least two weeks ahead of schedule. I found the very first black morel on April 14.

Can you spot the morel in this picture?

Last year, itself on the early side, Bill found the first black morels on April 25th,  but this year a prime indication – the fall of the forsythia flowers – suggested a look would be worthwhile, so off we went to a reliable spot, somewhat north of us but close to the river. No luck.

Indications there were more mixed: few wild columbines were blooming and the hepatica was still spotty. We only saw one in flower

Hepatica americana (aka H. nobilis var. obtusa and, just to make things interesting, Anemone americana or A. hepatica). Very cool little plant.

But one of the great things about walks in the second and third growth woods is the vast array of cultural artifacts left from the days when the land was open. Mushrooms may be lacking, but there’s always something to see.

Even after the cellar holes have filled in and the stone walls tumbled down, each spring uncovers bits of dishes, thick old bottles and horticultural hangers-on like clumps of refined hybrid narcissi, blooming away in the underbrush surrounded by barberries and poison ivy.

No morels, no problem. I’ll just photograph these. No tripod. Down on the knees. Multiple tries in hopes of one coming out not-too-shaky. Bill is calling, “time to go.”

“ Okay, honey, just one more,” I say, and then as I switch positions to get up. There it is.

Black Morel (Morchella elata/angusticeps/conica complex). This is the same picture, cropped to a close up of the rock just to the right of the narcissus clump

Sneaky bastards. Bill has written a black morel hunting guide that helps considerably, but missing more than you find just comes with the territory.

I didn’t step on it, but that’s not because I saw it before I put my foot down.

Hepatica in its more typical color, showing why the Doctrine of Signatures declared it good for curing liver ailments.

Hepatica flower and Leslie’s foot photos by Bill Bakaitis

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  • Wonderful article–now I begin to have some idea what I’m actually looking at and for on our walks. And so delighted to learn of the “Doctrine of Signatures.”

  • Love the doctrine of signatures–years ago, used to research history of medicine in art, and learned something about it then.
    Don’t know if we have morels in SE PA, though a friend in western MD says he finds them.

  • susan berlingeri Said,

    hello, hope you can help me. I’m transplanted from western PA. to Orange County New York and am looking for morel
    mushrooms. Can you help me find where to look for them in the wild.
    Thanks Susie

    Hi Susie, I passed your query along to Bill, who sends the following reply:

    Glad you have found our web site and thanks for your interest in the posts.

    First: If you haven’t yet done so, I urge you to search through our archives for the previous articles on finding morels. (not to toot my own horn, but many have said these are among the very best articles they have ever read on finding morels and other edibles.) Start here

    Second: It is very very rare to find a person who will share with you the location of her/his morel site. There are several clubs which foray in your area. Find them here ( Consider joining one and going out with them. This way you can learn habitat first hand.

    As for the specifics: Since Orange County and the Catskills in general, has so much rock and shale, until you are an advanced searcher, stay out of the mountains, concentrate your search in the older lowland agricultural sections, even if these are microhabitats squeezed between the roadside and the adjacent stream.

    Given the early warm temps this year (2012) black morels were found in mid-March at your latitude. Since then due to the severe drought we have been experiencing- nothing. Now (4/22) that there are some rains occurring all of our hopes are rising, but suffice it to say that sufficient moisture must penetrate the duff/soil over a period of time in order to nourish the mycelium, hyphal muff, and sclerotia, before morels can fruit. And then the soil temperatures also have to be favorable. I have heard from several collectors that they do not plan to go out looking for morels this year; their impression is that the season collapsed before it even began and the specter of tick-borne Lyme Disease and Erlichiosis, predicted to be at record levels this season is particularly daunting.

    I have found morels in the upper Delaware River basin in June, but in recent years by Mothers Day it all seemed to be over but the shouting. Prior to the 1990’s or 2000, mid May traditionally brought the peak of the morel season. This year all of the seasonal clocks based upon the emergence of forbs, fronds, bud and blossom break upon which I have relied are completely out of sequence.

    In short, I don’t know where the morel season is this year, or how productive it will be. To date I have seen only two morels. Last year by this time five dozen were fruiting under my bee hives only 20 yards from our kitchen door.



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