With the temperatures slowly warming up and the snow finally starting to melt, it can only mean that mushroom picking season is just around the corner! Much like athletes that train for their upcoming sport seasons, mushroom foragers can get a head start by reviewing notes from last year’s mushroom hunts, scouting for probable picking spots, locating (or supplementing) their gear and getting in shape in anticipation of the long, forthcoming forest hikes.
Although we still have knee-deep snow on the ground here in the Northeast, this does not prevent die-hard mushroom hunters from getting ready for the imminent picking season. In fact, the open, snow-covered trails allow for great tree identification, helpful for locating likely mushroom spots that will save scavenging time once the first fungi appear. This is a great time of year to strap on snow shoes, back country skis or winter hiking gear, get a good workout while recording important information that will lead to a successful foraging season. The following are some trees to scout for where certain mushroom varieties are likely to be found.
Morels are the first edible mushrooms to appear in most areas, emerging sometime in May based on geographic location and elevation. Here in New England we typically find Morels during the second week of May though they could come up earlier or later depending on environmental factors such as temperature and precipitation. Once Morels have started to pop up, their lifespan is approximately two weeks and their season lasts roughly a month based on the amount of moisture their habitat receives.
Common or Yellow Morels (Morchella esculenta) are usually found in the Eastern part of the country growing around the base of living White or Green Ash, dead or dying American Elms, and can also be found in older, unattended apple orchards. (Morels should not be picked in active orchards as pesticides may have been used and seeped into the ground.) Morels have a mycorrhizal relationship with these trees, and thus it can be expected to find them popping up within an 8 foot radius. Morel hunters typically go from Ash to Ash to pick their morels and don’t bother searching around the base of any other trees.
White Ash trees are easy to spot as they look similar to the morel caps. The trunk is dark gray, darker than most trees and is deeply furrowed with noticeable diamond-shaped ridges. Additionally, they have opposite branching, meaning that the limbs grow directly across from each other making them easy to identify since only a few species grow in this manner.
Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), King Bolete (Boletus edulis) and Lobster Mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) come up later in the summer and early fall and are usually found near conifers such as Hemlocks and Douglas Firs. These evergreen trees are usually surrounded by mature hardwood trees that provide some shade which is important to their subsistence. They have soft, flattened needles with a distinctive white line on the underside.
Maitake/Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) can usually be found at the base of mature oak trees in late summer and fall. These majestic trees are simply beautiful featuring enormous trunks that are certain to have this fungi growing around them. Look for large Oaks (Red Oaks in particular) that have dying branches in established forests, open areas, as well as parks and open fields. The bark is grey with deep grooves and ridges but it’s the girth of the mature tree that will be a key feature. The good news is that once you have found Maitake mushrooms growing at the base of a tree, it will usually appear in the same spot the following year.
So get outside, hike around, observe your surroundings and identify some of these trees. Take descriptive notes as to your location, particular tree stands and how you got there. Not only are you getting good exercise and adding to your fungi knowledge, but the anticipation of the upcoming mushroom season will get you excited and put you in a great mood!