Morel mushrooms: a hidden Michiana gem

Morel mushrooms: a hidden Michiana gem

Who knew a fungus could be so sought-after? Well, that's the case with morel mushrooms. They're no ordinary mushroom that you'd find at a store or on a summertime hike in the woods. They are rare, only come around for a month each year and can cost a pretty penny. Many morels sell for more than $10 per pound, and up to $40 per pound. The reason? As amateur mushroom hunter Michael Cowan puts it: "If you've ever had one, you will seek that flavor again." According to Cowan, morels taste like a blend of the woods and steak. He adds that these mushrooms have a steak-like texture, which is unlike most mushrooms. 

A haul of Michiana morel mushrooms. Michael Cowan
What's great about morels is that they can certainly be found in both Indiana and Michigan. In fact, the Gaylord-Cadillac area of Northern Michigan is the "mushroom capital of the world," says Cowan. So, how do you find these tasty, sought-after fungi? Let's dive right into that answer, shall we? It all starts with the time of year. For Michiana, that can range from April 1st to June 1st.

"Our season here is probably about a month. When the woods is really green and starting to pop, all the buds are starting to pop, that's the time of year. Usually our time around here is mid-April through mid-May with Mother's Day being prime time," says Cowan.

It goes beyond just knowing which month to venture out and look around, though. Mother Nature plays an integral role in determining when exactly morels peak each spring. It boils down to temperatures, humidity and precipitation.

Cowan says he waits for two or three nights in a row where low temperatures stay above 60° with dew points well into the 50s, if not higher. He also points out that daytime high temperatures reaching into the 70s are ideal for two or three straight days.

If it rains during a warm stretch of days in late April or May, Cowan says morels can pop up literally overnight. They can even grow in masses it the "just right" conditions come together around Mother's Day Weekend. But, it doesn't necessarily take a stretch of warm, humid days to see them pop up. As long as overnight lows stay above 45° or so, daytime highs are above 60° and soil temperatures are at or above 50°, morels can pop up. Now, the big question, of course, is where do they pop up? Unfortunately, that cannot be answered easily. Their location can be different every year. A spot that is incredible one year may leave you empty-handed the next year. There are things you can look for to increase your chance of finding morels, though.

Trees: look near elm, poplar, sycamore, hickory, and ash, especially if they are dead or decaying

Fruit: cherry trees and old apple orchards are great places to look

Wet areas: areas that are wet, but not overly wet. Search in well-drained areas that receive plenty of rain or are near a creek

Disturbed land: areas that were recently burned or flooded can be breeding grounds for morels 

You can read more about morels and even see where exactly people have spotted them to help you in your hunting! Cowan suggests heading to any local park, nature preserve or wooded area beginning in late April. Be sure to prepare for a long day and big crowds depending on where you go. Also be weary of ticks, poison ivy and oak and plants with thorns as you're digging through leaves and brush. If you're hoping for a jackpot location, don't expect any hunter to give theirs away. 

When asked about his favorite hunting spots, Cowan told ABC 57 News: "The only secret I have is [I] don't give away my spot. And that's every mushroom hunter's secret."

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