Is the New Morel Boom Upon Us?

It all started with a Facebook post. 

Another user shared a photo of a single mushroom found where an ash tree had been cut down, asking for assurance that it was a morel. It was. That was probably case closed for most. But not for me. 

My mind instantly went into overdrive. In a flash, it connected several dots and provided a most compelling hypothesis. I knew trying to ignore it would be torture, whereas following my instincts could bring generous rewards. 

There really was no choice. 

Hypothesis: Ash Trees and Morels

Before I tell you what happened next, let me give you a little background.

As I always say, foraging is highly regional. In most of the Midwest, morels are notoriously found near dead (or dying) elms. They can be found relating to other trees, but in the southern half of Minnesota, I haven’t see it much. Off the top of my head, those instances number less than five. 

In northern Minnesota, pines and aspen produce morels; elms are few to nonexistent. Ash trees are known morel producers elsewhere in the U.S. and in Europe. I personally have never found a morel I could attribute to an ash, and never give that advice. 

Where I live, there aren’t that many elms, and the percentage of dead ones with fruiting morels is sometimes discouragingly low. 100 miles to the southeast, it’s a different story. Even 50 years after Dutch Elm disease ravaged those forests, a guy can still put his mushroom knife to good use in the spring. Tales live on from the glory days of the 70s, when large elms died off by the hundreds of thousands. 

You can probably see where I’m going with this. 

We’ve had an avalanche of dying ash trees in my area the last couple years due to Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). If morels are growing in association with ashes here—even to a small degree—it would be worth looking. If to a large degree, however, we could enjoy the biggest morel hauls in half a century.

In My Laboratory

Friday, May 3

I headed to a nearby county park to canvas for morels near dead ash trees. The devastation from EAB is thorough, and most ashes were already dead. There were many in places, however, not a single mushroom showed its face. Either my hypothesis is no good, I thought, or my timing was off. 

Monday, May 6

All indications suggested I should go to my morel hotspot for yellow morels in a wildlife management area. I found nothing in one of my usual spots, which again prompted me to think my timing was off. I continued deeper into the woods to check more elms, stopping at every dead ash along the way (easy to spot because of their flaking bark). 

Under a big twin-trucked dead ash, I found four gray-ish morels. Two on one side, two on the other side. Not 10 yards away, under another large dead ash, another two appeared. On one hand, I only found six. On the other, 100% of my morels that day came from dead ashes.

I’ve never been more thrilled to find only a few mushrooms.

Friday, May 10

On my way to a weekend get together in Fillmore County, I toured some state forest land to see what I could find. The idea was to pick up some morels from the elms, and check some more ashes. 

The good news is I found plenty of mushrooms, including many of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The bad news is, that particular parcel didn’t have a single ash to offer. I resolved to get out again hear home. 

Tuesday, May 14

I headed back to the county park and found three fruitful trees for a total haul of eight morels. Few dead elms could be found, and none of them produced. Again, 100% of my harvest came from dead ashes. My hypothesis appears to be valid, although I did not hit the jackpot. 

Facts and Analysis

-The association between morels and ashes was certain. In each case, there were no other trees nearby which could have muddied the diagnosis. 

-Percentage of dead ashes exhibiting morels in three outings was low, easily 5% or lower. Timing could have been a factor, which could technically raise that percentage. Hard to say.

-Dead ashes giving up morels averaged large. One was approx. 14” diameter at breast height (DBH, a standard forestry measure); the rest were 18” DBH or greater. 

-Producing ashes ranged from approx. 60 to 100% dead. The first two had clearly been dead a few years and were losing bark in large chunks. 

-Morels were generally well scattered, and all were within 10 feet of the trunk. Every single tree that produced had mushrooms on opposite sides of the trunk, even if there were only two. 

-Only the very last tree had what I would consider the yellow morels (Morchella esculentoides), which are the last to come out each year. There very well may be more to come in my area, though I doubt I will get out again to check on that. 

-While 14 mushrooms from ashes doesn’t seem like a lot, they constituted 100% of harvest on those days and 25% or more of my total harvest so far this season. That’s hard to ignore.

Morel Clues, or Morel Snooze?

So, we might not be on the cusp of a morel boom due to the devastation of EAB. At least near me, the percentage of dead ashes producing morels was relatively low, and yields were not large. However, the association between ashes and morels is certain. Perhaps in richer soils or in the coming days, harvests will be greater. On the other hand, conditions this year are perhaps the best in the last five years, and my experience might have been as good as it will ever be. 

Bottom line, my advice will be to spend time checking dead ashes—especially the big ones—until they’ve disappeared. We might not find the mother lode, but picking up a few here and there is never a bad thing. 

2 thoughts on “Is the New Morel Boom Upon Us?”

  1. Hey Roy, Good advice. This year, I proved to myself that morels have a definite association with long dead Chinese elm or more accurately Siberian elm. (this year’s harvest was the best in years)
    Also, once many years ago I found one growing under a dead Japanese motorcycle.

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