Illinois — Found only in the spring, the morel is a much sought after wild edible mushroom which occurs naturally in Illinois and throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes region.
A progression map shared by the Illinois Morel Mushrooms Facebook group shows people reporting mushroom discoveries in Fulton, Mason, Tazewell, and McLean counties so far this year. Hunters send in photos of their finds and the rough locations as they come across the delicious fungi.
According to the Illinois Morel Mushroom group, the first Illinois morel of the year was found in Saline County back on March 16. Now, the morel season is well underway.
Morels are popping up big time in Southern Illinois. According to Illinois Morel Mushrooms, the coveted spring treasures have already been found in several counties around the state.
If you’ve never hunted before, a guide on how to spot and identify morel mushrooms is available through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. You can check out the guide here at this link.
Before you begin your hunt for morel mushrooms in Illinois, familiarize yourself with their appearance because there’s a mildly poisonous morel lookalike. If you are just starting out foraging for morels, consider joining a club or going along with someone who knows all about mushrooms and where to hunt for them in Illinois. If you ever have any doubt when selecting mushrooms for consumption, it’s best to leave them be.
Morel Hunting Season
When apple orchards bloom and oak leaves grow bigger, the season to hunt for morels has arrived. Morel mushrooms begin to appear during spring’s warming days in southern to central Illinois and about two weeks later in northern Illinois. Five species of morel mushrooms – the edible morels include the black, white and yellow morels – grow in the state. Black morels emerge first from the end of March through early April with yellow and white morels springing up one to two weeks later, overlapping the black morel growing season. The foraging season is over by the first two weeks in May in southern to central Illinois, but it continues for about two additional weeks in the northern part of the state. Morel foraging season lasts about four weeks in total for each mushroom type.
Identify the Cap
Morel mushrooms have distinctive conical, fluted and pitted caps. Morel caps range in color from nut brown to black and look like a walnut husk with deep pits and folds. The cap extends far down the mushroom shaft as opposed to the half-free morel – a mushroom that is toxic to many – whose cap is smaller and doesn’t cover the shaft. Another mushroom, the false morel, does not have a conical cap and looks more like brown folded parchment growing between the blanket of leaves.
Where to Look
The best place to look for morels in Illinois is along the edge of forested areas where you find oak, elm, aspen and ash trees growing. In the early spring as the ground heats up, look for morels on slopes that face south in the open areas. As spring continues its warming trend, hunt for them along north-facing slopes deeper into wooded areas. Morel mushrooms prefer moist areas where a canopy of trees have left a deep layer of shed leaves.
Morel Hunting Tips
In the beginning of spring, morel mushrooms are not large; the cap is between the size of an acorn and small walnut husk. At first, it may take a while to find them peeking out from beneath the leaf-layered forest floor. As spring progresses, morels grow above the forest detritus, which makes them easier to spot. Dead and fallen trees make good hunting ground for morels, as decaying organic matter from the dead trees provide an excellent food source for the mushrooms.
Beware of the law
In 2017 a Fulton man and a Clinton, Iowa man were arrested for unlawful entry to a restricted area at French
Bluff Natural Area. Both men were picking mushrooms during turkey season before 1:00P.M. Both men
were issued citations.
Also last year an Elizabeth man was issued written warnings for driving on the grass at Mississippi Palisades State Park and speeding 28mph in 20 mph zone. Stephenson County appears to have done well last year, as no activity was reported for this county.
So how can you increase your odds of finding the spongy fungi? Are there places to look for and find morel mushrooms that can help eliminate less productive ground, saving time and boot leather?
Yes, there are indeed.
According to Wide Open Spaces, there are a few tried and true kernels of morel hunting location wisdom that can save you a fair amount of walking over unproductive ground.
1. South-Facing Hillsides
This is especially true in the early part of the morel season, when the earth is starting to rewarm itself after its long winter freeze.
2. Ground Disturbed by Human or Natural Activity
Ground that’s been lightly disturbed by, for example, little more than some vehicles driving over it, or a former temporary stream bed from flooding can trigger morels.
3. Logging Areas
Places with plenty of downed trees are prime spots. The sun’s warmth is able to get to the ground unimpeded by a canopy, and there’s something about dying trees – a symbiotic relationship they have with the mushrooms – that tends to attract morels.
4. Burned Sites
Places where forest fires have had their way are on everyone’s hit list, especially professional morel hunters.
5. Loamy Soil
The kind of soil that morels seem to prefer is rich in organic matter, with a nice mix of sand and clay. Good potting soil, you might say. Soils that are rich in calcium or lime are also conducive to good morel growth.
6. Old Apple Orchards
There’s an old former hospital orchard near where I live. Although the trees are old they still produce apples (it also includes a couple of pear trees). Part of this old orchard is mown regularly and is nicely kept up. The other half of it is ignored and overgrown.
7. Streams and Creeks
Streams and creeks almost guarantee that their banks will have decent moisture and soil content.
You can read more tips here.
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