‘Tis the season for hunting morels

Trenity Daugherty displays a full plate of morels she picked in the area of Route 3 and Ames Road. “We found more the day before, but we ate them,” said her mother, Tanya Daugherty. (submitted photo)

Morel mushroom season is in full swing, with lucky hunters taking to the Internet to share the fruits of their labors without divulging too many details about their secret hunting grounds and “honey holes.”

But some hunters are reporting this year has started off with more of a whimper than a bang.

“The season has been stunted by the burst of cold we had and, believe it or not, some of the rain,” said Mark D’Angelo of Waterloo, a member of Clifftop and a morel enthusiast.

“This year could end up being a decent year, but this Saturday again it’s going to be cool,” he said.

And cool weather is anathema to morel growth.

According to D’Angelo, citing data from the Missouri Mycological Society, the perfect ground temperature for morel growth is 57 degrees. They also like to grow in wet but well-drained areas, and can often be found under sycamore, ash and healthy elm trees, he said.

Merrill Prange of Fults, a noted morel hunter, agreed with D’Angelo.

“It hasn’t been a really good year for morels,” he said. “But it hasn’t been a bad year.”

Prange suspects part of the blame lies with last year’s drought. He noted that his largest find this year — an impressive 70 to 80 mushrooms he and his wife, Sheryl, found last week — came in a low area near a creek, where spores may have fared a bit better during last year’s dry, hot summer.

Pictured, from left, Allyn and Scott Rohlfing submitted a photo of the 31.5-pounds of morel mushrooms they found in Monroe County. Not pictured, Garrett Rohlfing.

But by all accounts, the next few days will be crucial for determining the legacy of the 2013 morel season.

“The white blooms of the dogwood means the morels are coming up,” Prange advised.

And those dogwoods are still blooming white.

A friend of Bethany LaChance of Prairie du Rocher posted on the R-T Facebook page that LaChance has found more than 100 morels so far this season. Holly Kelling reported her family has been finding a steady amount in the Dupo and East Carondelet areas over the past few weeks. Near Valmeyer, John Niebruegge and his family also found plenty of morels in mid-April.

Morels are the darlings of the wild mushroom world this time of year. There are dozens of Facebook pages dedicated to all things morel. There, friends can post pictures of their finds and the culinary delicacies they create with them, and hawk products from morel-scented candles to “official” morel hunter t-shirts.

People who hunt the elusive fungi often have superstitions and lucky charms to aid them in their quests. And D’Angelo said there can be credence to this.

Many people claim that once they find their first morel of the season, their subsequent searches are sure to bear fruit. There is some truth to this, and it goes back to our early days as hunters and gatherers.

Our ancestors were conditioned to survive, and to do that, they had to find consistent sources of food. Once they identified a reliable and safe sustenance, future sightings were more perceptible to brains conditioned to seek out the most crucial of survival elements — food. This can explain why some people seem to have all the luck once they notch a successful morel harvest.

While morel hunters’ motivations today may be less base, they approach the task with vigor, relish successful harvests, and guard the sites of their finds as though their very survival still depended on it. To learn more about morels and other regional mushrooms, visit www.MissouriMycologicalSociety.org. For the lighter side of everything morel, visit TheGreatMorel.com, or just search Facebook for “morel.”

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