Outdoors

It's morel mushroom season in Iowa

A morel shows itself Thursday in Buchanan County, the first find of the season for Orlan Love. (Orlan Love/correspondent)
A morel shows itself Thursday in Buchanan County, the first find of the season for Orlan Love. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

Mushroom season starts with the finding of the first morel, which for me happened Thursday — my latest first find in more than 50 years of hunting morels in Buchanan County.

The find occurred on my fifth visit to a promising spot, so it’s not like they were there all along and I finally got around to looking.

Of course, until you actually find one, you can never be sure whether they’re not there or they’re there and you just can’t see them.

Now that the soil has finally been warmed and dampened, this week should yield fruitful picking. The following glossary may provide some useful terms for fellow seekers.

Mushroom: In springtime Iowa, a synonym for the tasty and elusive morel.

Mushroom tree: Trees around which most Iowa morels are found. It’s a short list: dead elms and live river birches.

Dead elm: The most likely Iowa location for morels. The most promising dead elms share most if not all the following characteristics: size, the larger the better; recently deceased, with most of its bark and branches intact; standing on a slope rather than on flat ground; and a reddish tint to its exposed dead wood.

Lie: How a mushroom tree is situated, analogous to the position of a golf ball. For example, a dead elm with a good lie would be on a slope and surrounded by minimal undergrowth.

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Bellwether spot: Area known for early fruiting of morels. Ideally a large, recently deceased elm on a south-facing slope known to have yielded morels in past seasons.

Gone by: Condition describing morels that have escaped notice until they have begun to deteriorate.

Substrate: The condition of soil, humus and vegetation surrounding a mushroom tree; ideally well composted leaf litter with short, briar-free vegetation.

Pricklers: Skin-flaying morel companion plants including raspberry, multiflora rose and buckthorn.

Disease vectors: Morel guardians that will make you sick or worse: ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy. Don’t make eye contact.

Outliers: Areas where a few morels have been found on a widely scattered basis: They include in lawns, under pine trees, in apple orchards, under May apples and beneath live ash and oak trees.

Serendipity: When you find an outlier.

Serendipity doodah: When you find a lot of outliers.

Little grays: The earliest and best morels. They are harder to find, and it takes more of them to make a meal, but they are the most flavorful and have the longest shelf life in the refrigerator.

Floppy yellows: The largest, latest fruiting and least delectable of the morels. They tend to discolor and disintegrate quickly.

Pointy-headed yellows: The earliest morels fruiting near river birches.

Stubs: Morel stems, indicating that someone is beating your time.

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Bonanza (also known as big strike): 50 or more morels from one location.

Bagged out: The condition that occurs when one’s bag won’t hold another mushroom. Be sure to carry an extra bag just in case.

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