That time of year has come: the morel season is approaching. Social media is all abuzz. Rumors of a “morel map” are flying around and folks are going on about soil temperatures. It seems like mysterious, closely-guarded chaos. There are always some overeager individuals who are looking for any little sign that the mushrooms are about to pop, but are, in reality, weeks ahead of themselves. Believe me, I have been one of those people in past years. Any trips to the woods result in no more than a light workout, which is not necessarily a bad thing aside from the deer ticks. But in the interest of efficiency, we want to get the timing right. And we certainly don’t want to miss out on anything. Believe me, I’ve been that guy too.
Phenology Should Be Your Future
One thing that can help in future years is to pay attention to the phenological clues around you.
That is, if you hunt for morels near home, watch in your neighborhood for nature’s signs that will help you in the timing of subsequent morel seasons. We often hear about lilac buds, oak leaves, etc., but do you know how to interpret the signs? For instance, I know that when the apple trees in my front yard are in full bloom and the leaves of the red oak trees in my back yard are just emerging, I need to get to my main morel spot. Timing the morels away from home will probably be a little trickier if you use the clues near home- morels up north will be weeks off from morels down south, etc., but it can still help. Observe and record, and more is better. Again, this is to benefit you in future seasons, but you will find it is invaluable information.
For now, here are some online resources that will be useful in forecasting the morel season. From the comfort of your desk at work or couch at home, you can get your finger on the pulse of spring. Using these tools will either kick you into gear, or put your mind at ease (right now in Minnesota, we’re still clearly weeks away from the main morel season). Most of these are interactive maps and user-friendly.
Pollen Map https://www.pollen.com/map/mn
In the weeks leading up to the morel season, we’re really thinking in ballpark terms- weeks versus days. This map will help you track the major groups of trees blooming from south to north as spring progresses. First come juniper, poplar, elm, then maple and alder. Oaks come somewhat later. This map allows you to pan around and check where certain kinds of trees are blooming. As I mentioned earlier, I know the morels in my area aren’t sprouting until after the oak leaves in my back yard start to emerge. Anyone with knowledge of such things knows that the leaves often come after the tree blooms. Therefore, I don’t gear up for mushrooming until the oak pollen has come out in my area, or at least close. This sort of information can be especially helpful when looking at a new area that is far from home.
The Morel Sightings Map https://www.thegreatmorel.com/morel-sightings/
This map is a user-generated database of where morels have been found, often with photographic proof. It’s pretty straight forward. From here in the Twin Cities area, I don’t get too excited until the line of scrimmage crosses into Minnesota from Iowa.
Soil Temperature Maps
The primary indicator of morel season is the temperature of the soil. The morel season progresses according to soil temperature; they don’t start until it’s warm enough, and once the ground is too warm, it’s over. Most people say 50 degrees is the key temperature for the start of the action. Some people will say 52, or 54, or whatever. Anyone who is very adamant is probably speaking in terms of their own anecdotal information (specific to their spot). Hitting 50 degrees depends on daytime and nighttime temperatures, so it’s hard to predict on its own. (As for me, I’ll never forget that when the overnight temperatures hit 50 degrees, I found my first morel jackpot.) Anyway, it’s in that temperature region somewhere. If you don’t have the equipment or time to go to your morel spots and take soil temperature readings, these maps can help. Searching online for state-specific information can be fruitful. I’ve included some Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota resources that popped up in my quick search.
National Weather Service https://www.weather.gov/ncrfc/lmi_soiltemperaturedepthmaps
MN Department of Ag https://www.mda.state.mn.us/soiltemp/
IA State http://extension.agron.iastate.edu/NPKnowledge/soiltemphistory.html
These online resources are probably best used in combination. For instance, after looking at the soil temperature maps today, I would guess the morels are going full force down in Missouri and might be coming up into Iowa. A glance at the sightings map confirms that guess. The more pieces of the puzzle you have, the clearer the picture will be as spring rolls along.
Sure, it’s way too early here in Minnesota to have a reasonable expectation of finding any morels. But that shouldn’t keep you from going out and doing a little morel scouting if you’re in the spirit. Besides, it would be crazy to squander such great weather after the winter we had. Happy hunting!
If you’re interested in learning about more foraged foods, please visit the What to Forage page.