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Follow the "Signs" to Collect Morel Mushrooms

Do you have a favorite path or natural place that you like to walk? If so, and if you have been walking this path for several years, then perhaps you are already aware of the many signs that are placed in your view to provide you with critical information about that place. The signs are everywhere, but for many of us, they have become incomprehensible, invisible, and overlooked.

We live in a world that is ordered, inter-linked, and cyclical. Through focused observation of the natural world, we are given "signs" that can help us to understand and operate in harmony within this natural order. This article will discuss the signs of Spring, and how observing these signs can lead you to a delicious and difficult-to-find natural bounty — morel mushrooms.

Finding morels in the state of Colorado is about being in the "right place" at the "right time". Map and calendar references are too simplistic and likely to fail in providing a novice with adequate information to find morels.This is because the growth of morels is conditioned upon a complex and symbiotic relationship of environment, weather, topography, and other bio-systems. Luckily for us all, specific signs are provided in nature that can guide us to our desired fruiting bodies.

Let's start the search with the signs that point to the "right place". Plant and topographic indicators provide confirmation of proper morel environment. In Colorado, Yellow Morels [Morchella esculenta] are found along creeks and rivers in the lowlands. They are usually associated with Narrow Leaf Cottonwood trees. Look for wide flat zones within river flood plains. The presence of Motherwort and mints are indicators of good hunting grounds. Black Morels [Morchella angusticeps] grow in the foothills and mountains within stands of mixed Pine and Aspen trees. While Black Morels are more widespread than Yellow Morels, wide flat areas that hold water are almost always a superior environment than hillsides. The presence of Pasque Flowers and Calypso Orchids are good indicator plants for Black Morels.

Morel mushrooms in the state of Colorado fruit as early as mid-March in the lower flatlands to as late as mid-July in the mountains. However, in any given micro-environment, prime morel fruiting will only last about ten days. Luckily, the same moisture and temperature conditions that trigger morels to fruit, also trigger specific growth patterns in common plants. You can use these "easy to find" plants as a specific indicator of the "right time" to find morels in specific locations.

Start looking for Yellow Morels in the lowlands when the leaves of Cottonwood trees are about two inches long and the leaf of the Narrow Leaf Cottonwood is about three quarters of an inch long. If you are finding fresh Asparagus about six inches tall, or fresh Oyster Mushrooms [Pleurotus ostreatus] less than two inches across, then morels are still a week or two away. Just as the prime gathering of asparagus ends, the prime gathering of Yellow Morels begins. Yellow and Black Morels fruit when Oregon Grape is in flower and when Motherwort and mints are about ten inches tall.

In the mountains, the "right time" to look for Black Morels is when the leaves of Aspen trees are bright green and about the size of quarters. The blooming of Pasque Flowers marks the beginning of Black Morel fruiting in a localized area while the blooming of Calypso Orchids occurs mid-to-late season. With Black Morels, you can "chase" the season uphill to higher elevations.

Learning to "read the signs" will deepen your understanding and appreciation of the environment you live in. If you happen to be a "shroomer", being able to read the signs provides the difference between stumbling upon a few mushrooms and herbs or collecting pounds of mushrooms and wild food (as well as natural medicines). With a little bit of study, lots of observation and time spent outdoors you will gain experience in reading the signs and placing yourself into the "right place" at the "right time.".