The morels are among the most highly prized edible mushrooms in North America. Also called sponge mushrooms, morels have a long list of local names. There is an on-going debate as to how many species of morel are found in North America and what each should be named. Some suggest as few as 3 species, others as many as 50 species. For simplicity, Michael Piep of the Intermountain Herbarium, says 4: white or yellow, half-free, gray and black. All are delicious.
All morels have a cone-shaped, sponge-like head on a lighter colored stem. Appearances can be deceiving … morels are difficult to spot at the best of times, and seem adroit at hiding and camouflage.
“Where does one find them?” This is an interesting question … localities range from under an old apple tree in Taylorsville to pine woodlands high in the canyons. In general, the white/yellow and half-free types tend to occur along streams and rivers most often on sand bars and tend to prefer areas with mature cottonwood trees nearby. Black morels are found at higher elevations typically on north or north-east facing slopes and most frequently under Lodgepole pine, but may be found with other conifer species and even quaking aspen. Gray morels don’t seem to be as choosy, and can be found in both habitat types.
The half-free morels start fruiting first, starting at about the time the buds on the cottonwood trees are about to burst. Yellow/white morels fruit at about the time the apple blossoms show pink; as do the grays. The black morels fruit about the time the aspen leaves are the size of a dime.
Hopefully these rough guidelines will help in your pursuit of the wily morel, and as always … Happy Mushrooming!
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Photo: Courtesy and Copyright Chris Schnepf, University of Idaho, Bugwood.org
Text: Michael Piep, Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University