For morel seekers, state map aids treasure hunt
To find morel mushrooms, one should seek out despair.
Dying trees, yes. Wildfires, indeed. Morels blossom not in sunshine but rain.
To help find the elusive creatures, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has created an online map showing locations of calamity or, more specifically, wildfires and controlled burns in 2015.
Morels often sprout in once-shady areas that were burned a year earlier, said Jim Fisher, a DNR resource protection manager.
But it’s no sure thing, he said.
“We’re providing a resource but it’s up to the hunters to head out to the forest and see what’s available,” he said.
And, make no mistake, hunters will be a-huntin’.
April to June is prime foraging season for morel mushrooms, and one of the most bountiful spots in the U.S. is northern Michigan.
For 56 years, thousands of gourmands have traipsed to Boyne City for the National Morel Mushroom Festival.
The fest, May 11-15, will have a morel breakfast, morel pasties, even morel ice cream.
Foodies swear by the magical mushrooms, comparing them to truffles and caviar.
Not bad for fungi that resemble a dried brain.
“They’re divine. I absolutely love them,” said Melissa Muir, of Grosse Ile, who searches Michigan several times a season.
Muir said she was haunted by the taste after nibbling on one a decade ago.
She and others described the flavor in varying ways: sweet, beefy, woodsy.
The DNR created the interactive map after fielding calls every spring from morel lovers asking about burn sites.
The map provides information on forest cover types, state-managed land boundaries and latitude and longitude coordinates.
It can be found at the DNR Open Data Portal at michigan.gov/dnr.
Jerry Watson, who is first vice president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, often leads searches around the state.
He has an expedition planned for Lewiston and may stop at a nearby burn site identified by the DNR map.
But Watson will let the others pick morels. He doesn’t care for ones that have grown after fires.
“They’re dirty. They go through ash,” he said.
He prefers another type of mushroom — chanterelles.
Watson, who forages for the fungi 50 times a year, enjoys the thrill of the search. He likens it to hunting big game.
“It’s like going on a treasure hunt,” he said.
Some people feel the mushroom pickers are trying to save money by not buying them at a store.
Nothing could be further from the truth, they said.
By the time some northern Michigan trips are over, the searchers have paid a small fortune for gas and lodging, said Muir.
“It’s not cheap,” she said.
Where are the best spots Muir and Watson have found through the years?
You might as well ask them the PIN to their ATM cards.
“I look for a certain habitat,” said Watson.
And what type of habitat might that be?
No comment, he said.