Introduction: How to Spot and Identify Morel Mushrooms

Picture of How to Spot and Identify Morel Mushrooms

Morels are one of the most sought after mushrooms in the woods. Found all over most of the United States, as well as other parts of the world, they are a delicacy as well as a source of income for those who sell them. They are expensive and a few pounds can bring a decent bit of money. But most morel hunters will throw them in the skillet or fryer as soon as they get home.

Here's a guide to show you:

-how to identify them, be sure it's the real thing
-how to spot them better, since they are camouflaged.

Step 1: How to Positively Identify

Picture of How to Positively Identify

First, this is a guide and not a scientific definition guaranteed to find you the correct mushrooms. Be cautious about what you eat and remember the phrase "when in doubt, throw it out".

Now don't get too scared, because the morel is one of the most early identifiable wild mushrooms.

Characteristics of the morel are:

-Pitted, "sponge" type appearance
-Hollow interior and stem (the stem will go up through the cap as well)

The hollow stem is the main way to be sure it's a morel. There exists a "false morel" that has been reported to be poisonous to some people, but it's fairly easy to distinguish from the morel.

False morel characteristics:
-more of a brain-like cap rather than sponge
-stem is not hollow, usually somewhat "cottony" in appearance

Once you have found a morel with a hollow stem, you can be sure it's the real thing (again, this is a guide, and don't eat anything you aren't completely sure of).

There are several species of morels, but the main groups are:

-Yellows (the largest, often light brown or yellow-brown)
-Grays (usually immature yellows, have dark gray pits and light ridges)
-Blacks (all brown when young, brown with black ridges when mature, these are known for more flavor and the earliest ones to pop up
-Half-free (lower half of cap is detached from stem, often the stem is much larger, these are known as "dog pecker" or "pecker heads" due to appearance)

Step 2: How to Spot

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Morels are incredibly camouflaged. Some of the bigger yellows will stand out more, as will tall specimens among matted down leaves. However, most morels are almost the same colors as the leaves they are growing among, and some might not even penetrate above the leaf litter.

How to spot...

Remember this: your eyes focus on a small area in the center of your vision, about 5 degrees. The rest of your visual field around this is peripheral. While you can still see colors and movement just fine, you won't be able to see the detail to distinguish a mushroom from the surrounding leaves.

Only the very center of where your eyes focus will be in clear detail. This means that scanning the forest floor won't yield many mushrooms. You have to look directly at the mushroom to see it. Sometimes, a particular mushroom will catch the corner of your eye, but you can't go into the woods expecting to find them like this. You must scan as thoroughly as you can, hoping your vision will cross a mushroom.

When searching new territory, you will want to find a balance between lazily scanning the woods and thoroughly scrutinizing the ground. You don't want to miss a patch, but you also don't want to spend too much time in one area when trying to find a new patch.

When you find one mushroom, keep looking in the immediate area in all directions. Often, morels will grow in patches. Sometimes you may only find one or two, but you may also find three or four, or 20, or 250. You never know until you look.

Step 3: Where and When to Look

Picture of Where and When to Look

First I will tell you some good areas to look. In much of the Midwest, morel hunters like to find dead or dying elms. Several trees can be linked to morel patches, but nothing is absolute.

Here in the southeast, I like to search wooded hillsides and ridges that have plenty of tulip poplar, white ash, maple and sometimes hickory trees. I have found some of my best morel patches in large groves of tulip tree. White ash is also a common morel tree but I have found mushrooms in a wide variety of woods.

Hillsides are a great place to look regardless of tree species. Morels will also grow in bottoms, ridges, valleys and sometimes meadows and orchards, but a hillside is a good place to start.

There is no telling where the mushrooms may grow, but the above mentioned trees are a good indicator of woods that may be ideal for morels.

When to look:

Morels only grow for a few weeks in the spring. Some years are better than others. Ideally, the soil temps should be in the 50s.

A general rule is that when day temps are starting to hit 70 regularly and not going much below 40 at night, it's a good time to look. Also, you can add the daytime high and nighttime low together, and if it is at least 100 for a few days in a row, you should be in the woods.

Another good indicator is may apples - if you know what these look like (google them, they grow in patches) you should start looking for morels when the may apples have come up and their leaves are opening up like umbrellas.

Once the day temps are consistently in the 80s, it's usually getting too hot for morels and remaining mushrooms will dry up.

Be sure to visit patches repeatedly until they stop producing. A good patch will keep sprouting mushrooms for at least a week or two.

DONT FORGET: when picking morels, it helps them reproduce if you carry mushrooms in a mesh bag. This allows millions of spores to release back to the woods while you are walking around.

Step 4: How to Cook Morels

Picture of How to Cook Morels

Morels are arguably some of the best mushrooms to eat. They can be used in almost any dish that calls for mushrooms, or you can eat them by themselves.

Common methods of eating morels are:

-breading and deep frying
-roll in flour and sautée
-sautée in butter with salt and pepper

The latter is probably my favorite way to eat them plain, but they are also very good fried in flour, cornmeal or batter. Season to taste with whatever seasoning you like.

Cut larger mushrooms in half lengthwise so they cook better.

Some people soak morels in saltwater to draw out bugs. I don't usually do this, any any really dirty mushrooms can be discarded.

Step 5: Preserving Morels

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Probably the best way to preserve is to string them up on a thread and let them hang out to air dry for several days. Make sure the mushrooms are completely stiff and dry before storing in an airtight container. Boil dried mushrooms for a minute or two to reconstitute.

I hope this instructable has helped you and good luck in the woods next spring!


CrayfishYAY (author)2017-05-10

It might be too late for me this year. It is May & I live in Long Beach, MS. I go to college in Mobile, AL. Warm practically all year.

TheCoffeeDude (author)2015-12-24

We haven't found any yet, but every Spring we bring this up as our guide. Love foraging!

jwoods10 (author)2015-09-13

Also known as "Hickory Chicks" for us Kentuckians.

tvance929 (author)2014-09-16

Anyone know the best date to start hunting in the mid-south? Tennessee...

dorybob (author)tvance9292014-09-16

Dear tv, Late March here in south-central Indiana. I feel as though they "bloom" as a wave moving north. Your local hunters will know best.

tvance929 (author)dorybob2014-09-17

Thanks Dorybob! We come from Illinois and surprisingly most of the people we have talked too here hardly know anything about shroom hunting!

kudzu63 (author)tvance9292014-09-18

Same thing here in Alabama, tvance929. The only shrooms around here that anyone knows about are the "magic" kind. LOL

sis21 (author)kudzu632015-05-25

Were at in alabama i just moved here and would love find some im in Anniston

pegleg6 (author)tvance9292015-01-27

I wouldn't rely too much on a fixed date

tvance929. The best guide on when to start hunting that I know is to start when the leaf buds on the oak trees are about the size of a squirrel's ear.

WUVIE (author)2015-04-07

Thank you for this great Instructable!

Aaron98 (author)2015-01-03

Great tips. I love looking for them.

Locomiguel (author)2014-10-12

Very well explained, and while Morel's are reasonably safe, most of the time mistaking a false morel for a real one only brings on "the gummy bear from hell" syndrome, As I was told by my mentor in mushrooms over 40 years ago, "Never eat a mushroom that someone who knows hasn't told you is safe, don't rely on books" We then spent a year, off and on, wandering around the various micro-climates of the Mendocino coast till I could tell them all: Poisonous, Magic, Tasty, not so tasty, and ones that taste down right foul but won't do you serious harm. To this day, I can still identify them for that area but, you know what, don't really like to eat them much. Also the information is regional. While many are similar in other areas, it's the not so good ones that become problematic.

JM1999 (author)2014-10-11

Very well explained.

M2aestro (author)2014-09-17

I found a very large one growing on our garage wall (!) and alerted the family to it. Imogene Cunningham was visiting (my father was an accomplished photographer and scientist) and photographed it. My son has the only print that I know about, for it was not in the Cunningham catalog of prints, but she signed it. There is some slight water damage as a result of the print being stored improperly by my parents.

Mario2007 (author)M2aestro2014-09-23

Cool story.

American Ruin (author)2014-09-23

I'm definitely gonna go hunting this upcoming season!

antagonizer (author)2014-09-21

I've generally avoided mushroom gathering because of their low nutritional value and the risk associated with them, but your instructable has seriously peaked my interest. I can honestly say I've never had a morel before and will definitely follow your instructable. However, I'm concerned that there isn't enough caveat info on your instructable. You spoke of the 'false morel' which led me to research and I think you should include some pics of them as well so people can clearly identify them. It'd go a long way to rounding out the instructable anyway which I think is fantastically detailed. Also, it mentioned issues with eating them raw, or with alcohol and I thought you may want to give that a mention as well. Again, you taught me something and I do appreciate that. Great job.

kudzu63 (author)2014-09-18

How can I find out if they grow around my area?? I live in South Alabama. I have about 20 acres of my own that sounds like it should have them on it but I also have access to several hundred acres that could possibly have them IF they grow in this part of the country. I'm not in the best health in the world and ain't gettin out there unless there's a chance that I might just find some. Sounds fun though.

danny6114 (author)2014-09-17

In my experience, the hardest morel to find is the first one. After that it seems you can spot them easily. My favorite way to cook them is to crush Ritz crackers into a mealy powder and bread beaten egg dipped morels then pan-fry them

shizumadrive (author)2014-09-16

Love morels but my uncle who use to find them is too old and my grandma who made them in the most amazing way passed on. I've only managed to find the occasional lone morel.

Soak those morel to get "creatures" out of the folds

dorybob (author)2014-09-16

Here in Indiana, the 2 best places to find morels are at the edge of our driveway and at our local food coop. We like them served sautéed with a Brut Champagne. They get eaten before there is any thought of preservation. You must know all the good spots. Thanks for the ible and you need to send us a pound or 2 of those preserved morels. ;-)

graphguy (author)2014-09-16

A fisherman will give up a fishing hole before a Morel hunter will give up his secret morel spots... so don't even ask.

al_packer (author)2014-09-16

Just be sure to avoid any immorel mushrooms.

AnnaF (author)2014-09-16

Excellent instructable! It may be worth noting that one should never eat true morels raw. Additionally, for those of us who live on the West Coast, the time-of-year and temperature requirements for morels to grow are just about the same, and morels (especially black morels, which are more common here) can often be found with or near calypso orchids, rather than may apples (which only seem to grow in the eastern US).

Wild-Bill (author)2014-09-16

I too love morels (narrow caps) and they grow in my back yard when the weather is right. Just plane yummy.

redsquare (author)2014-09-16

Soooo savory. You can never have too many morels.

vincent7520 (author)redsquare2014-09-16

I couldn't say it better than you !…

YUM !!!!…

But do not forget the pleasure of long walks to find them !…

vincent7520 (author)2014-09-16

Good inst'.

The best way to eat any mushroom from the wild is sauté them : you'll get the best of the flavor that may be "killed" by batter and other deep fried methods…

However morel mushrooms can also be cooked in cream for specific recipes (google them).

If you dry them (or any other mushroom) DO NOT FORGET to clean them thoroughly before : otherwise tiny bits of sand or soil will remain on them and this will be impossible to spot and clean from a dried mushroom. Believe me : I learned my lesson the hard way !…

However one should never wash mushrooms as their flavor lies essentially in the skin or surface of the plant. Instead use a light brush (a brand new paint brush is ideal) and a soft cloth and the job will be easily done. By the way this is also true with fragile berries such as strawberries… but that's an other story.

In my country the best time for picking up morel is spring in meadows. Most other mushroom thrive in large forests in late august and early september for the very reason that the weather is warm, if not hot, and the country had a few days of rain : the combination of both will help the mushrooms to sprout, thrive and grow … for our better pleasure : long walks in the mountains and fine diners with friends !…

jsolterbeck (author)2014-09-16

Love to see morels, my family has picked them for 100 years, probably longer. They grow in damp hillside areas, amongst the pine and spruce, in Idaho. So between your leafy southeastern forests and alpine northwest, they really do grow anywhere!

markbellis (author)2014-09-16

Great photos! I see yours are growing in oak leaf litter - are there any particular trees or plants morels are associated with? I found some growing under false solomon's seals in a mostly ash deciduous forest.

DDW_OR (author)2014-09-16

i had some grow in my back yard when i was living in Montana near Columbia Falls.

I have a sugar pine on my property here in Oregon. will look there in the spring.

two others i look for is the shaggy mane and the puff ball

shaggy mane

puff ball

fixfireleo (author)2014-09-16

i've never tasted them although they do grow in ohio. i know they are VALUABLE though!!

raybob (author)2014-09-16

Very cool :-) We spotted our very first Morel this spring on our local mountain - I had no idea that they grew here in North Alabama! It was as you said: on a wooded hillside among Tulip Poplars, of which we have many. Thanks for this instructable :-)

Bowtie41 (author)2014-09-16

That's also an interesting storage area for the jugs.Good job on it and the 'able!

awesomelumens (author)2014-09-14


Thrombis (author)2014-09-14

Awesome! Thanks for sharing! I never sell my shrooms...I eat them too! The latter two methods I have tried but will try the deep fry next year!

tofugami (author)2014-09-14

Great ible for those willing to seek them out. I'm going to take the drying technique out and try them on regular mushrooms.

sparhawk7 (author)2014-09-14

my grandpa swears by sugar pines (the ones with the giant cones and long needles). also, be sure you get them before they burn (sensitive to sunlight) they'll taste much better that way, and if you can, leave the little ones for next time. another thing he swears by is stomping the stem into the ground after you've cut them, he says they come back more often that way. good luck!

MsSweetSatisfaction (author)2014-09-14

Mmmm tasty tasty morels! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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