February 24, 2017 by
Photography by Doug Meigs
Illustration by Mady Besch

Morel-mania usually begins around mid-to-late April. Inconsistent Midwestern weather prevents forecasting the exact start of morel mushroom season year-to-year.

Morel (aka morchella) mushrooms begin to flush en masse when spring rains alternate with patches of sunshine atop warming ground temperatures.

Morels are distinctive and easy to identify, with their porous and sponge-like brownish heads atop tan/white stems. Their caps might also be described as honeycombed and cone-shaped; they come in grey (smaller) and yellow (larger) varieties.

Foodies covet the delicious morsels of fungal delight. Morels are known for a unique nutty flavor. Popular recipes include: battered and deep-fried, scrambled with eggs, used as garnish, or dried for later consumption.

As a general rule, the morel season coincides with the blooming of lilacs. Morels also return to the same place every year—if their mycelium underground remains healthy. That means avid mushroom hunters often keep their favorite spots a secret.

If you see one morel, stop. Slow down and scan the ground. They grow in clusters. Morels hide in the deep woods, near the bases of old-growth trees, overturned trunks, and decomposing vegetation. They pop from grassy areas, near the banks of rivers, and on hillsides.

Along with monitoring lilac bushes, paying attention to the weather forecast helps foragers to prepare for morel season. Be ready for periods of sudden downpours of rain combined with warm daytime temperatures (70 degrees or more) and nights that linger above 40 degrees for at least four days in a row.

If you anticipate a sunny day following a torrential spring downpour, get ready. Put on your rain jacket, and rush to your favorite mushrooming spot as soon as the rains lift.

Grab some good mud boots (or old sneakers), and make sure you have a mesh bag that allows the mushrooms’ spores to escape and spread. Local outdoors shops sell mesh bags for morels. Onion or potato sacks from the grocery store also work well.

If you’ve never been mushroom hunting, it’s time to start begging friends to show you how. Or, do a little research and go explore any publicly accessible backwoods along local rivers.

There are several popular local destinations for morel hunters. But any densely vegetated public land (with plenty of overturned trees) along the Missouri River or Platte River could yield a plentiful haul of morels. That is, if the area hasn’t been picked over already.

The website morels.com hosts a useful and interesting Nebraska forum. Other useful resources can be found at thegreatmorel.com, morelhunters.com, and the “Nebraska Morels” Facebook group.

Beware of gun-toting hunters in the woods. Morel season corresponds with the spring turkey hunting season. Also, avoid trespassing. Common courtesy (and the law) necessitates seeking permission to hunt for mushrooms on private property.

Remember that wild mushrooms can be deadly. Only pick and cook mushrooms you can identify with complete confidence. Search online for “false morels” and make sure you can tell the difference. False morels are poisonous.

In 2016, the website of Nebraska Game and Parks maintained weekly morel reports from April 13 through May 11. The Game and Parks website also provides tips for locating morels, and even suggests a few popular mushroom hunting grounds.

Proactive scouting is a good strategy—if only to monitor the human traffic in the woods. The morel season around Omaha usually only lasts from two to four weeks, depending on weather conditions. Sometimes the peak of the season takes place in May.

Evidence of over-picked stems and decaying mushrooms indicate that the morel season is well progressed.

Remember: if you share a mushroom hunting spot with a “friend,” there is a very good chance they will tell someone else. Then, all those other folks might just go pick all the morels while you’re stuck at work, in school, or caught in some other less fulfilling endeavor.

Heed the moral of this morel story. When the lilacs bloom, somebody is probably picking over your favorite morel grounds. So, if you’ve got a good spot, consider keeping it a secret.

Visit outdoornebraska.gov/morel for more information.

Morel Mushroom Hunting Sites

Suggested by Nebraska Game and Parks:

Public areas near rivers:

  • Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
  • Indian Cave State Park
  • Louisville State Recreation Area
  • Platte River State Park
  • Schramm Park State Recreation Area
  • Two Rivers State Recreation Area

Old-growth forests and creeks at:

  • Branched Oak State Recreation Area
  • Burchard Wildlife Management Area
  • Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area
  • Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area
  • Twin Lakes Wildlife Management Area
  • Yellow Banks Wildlife Management Area

 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

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