Morel Hunting In Washington

Mt. 1

by Brady Raymond

What will be the outcome for the “Spring 2018 Washington Mushroom Season?”  Only the future knows.  However, I know that I’m finding Morels at various elevations.  I also know that I’m loving every second of it.  I worry a little that the weather is going to get too hot too quick and before we know it the season will be over.  I cast these thoughts aside though, and I focus on the task at hand, which is quite simple, “To find as many Morels as I can.”

So far, the pickings have been a little slim for me, but what I have found has been thoroughly enjoyed.  I’ve seen a few other folks while out and only one looked to have a bag with very much in it, so I don’t think I’m doing too bad.  The two times I have been out this season We’ve collected enough to feed three for both breakfast and dinner.  These are meager pickings comparatively speaking but, one has to be thankful for anything Mother Nature is willing to offer up.

2018 Morel Breakfast

Even the simplest of meals is awesome cooked over campfire coals, especially breakfast.

Often times I preempt the season by starting too high in elevation.  Eventually, though, the Morels get up to where I’ve been cruising and in a good year, this can be a decent strategy.  In a bad year though you have to make the most of the season and ride the wave up the mountains.  If you are able to ride the wave through the whole season then you truly are bound for Morels of plenty.

Most of us who have been hunting awhile know that it is just as much about the experience than it is about paper bags full of Morels.  Finding enough Morels to bring home and dehydrate is always nice, but eating a meal with friends and family around the campfire is truly a special thing, one we should all be grateful for if an opportunity arises for such an occasion.

2018 Morels

Compare this photo to the Morels below and the Gyromitra below that.

Are these Morels?”  First-time hunters are sometimes confused by what is and isn’t a Morel.  The simple answer is “the right ones are Morels.”  I’ve seen folks that gleefully pick Verpa bohemicas and yet others who pick Gyromitra montana claiming the virtues of each yet I can’t wrap my mind let alone my mouth around mushrooms that others are quite wary of.  I stick to the Genus Morchella, the species is of little relevance to me aside from a general curiosity, the same which I hold for all of nature.

It should be stated though, to the new mushroom hunter that even the delicious “True Morels” can make some folks sick if they happen to be allergic to them or have a body chemistry not suited for their consumption and they will almost certainly make everyone sick if they are not thoroughly cooked.  Memorize these five important rules and you should be ok.

  • Always be 100% sure of identification.
  • Always cook your mushrooms thoroughly.
  • Only eat a small amount when trying a new type of mushroom.
  • Only try one type of mushroom at a time – and wait 24 hours for any reactions
  • Only eat mushrooms that are in good condition.
2018 Morels 2

Morels, beautiful Morels.

So, what is this one then?”  The simple answer is “It’s not the right one.”  Well, it is a False Morel, a Gyromitra esculenta more exactly (pictured below).  Gyromitra is a genus of False Morels, in a broader grouping called Ascomycetes.  Ascomycetes are fungi that bear their spores in Asci, a kind of sack-like structure on the microscopic scale.  Other False Morels include Verpa bohemica and Verpa conica as well as a few species in the genus Helvella.  Although, any mushroom one mistakes for a Morel is technically a “False Morel.”

Any reputable field guide should be able to walk you through the differences and I would advise the new mushroomer to study up on these Morels and False Morels before heading out.  Notice, however, in the images above how the Morels posses a pitted cap surface as opposed to the more folded surface of the Gyromitra (pictured below).


Gyromitra esculenta, a “False Morel.”

If you’re not having luck finding Morels but you are finding “False Morels” and other Ascomycetes like the Cup Fungi (pictured below) take heart, you are probably on the right track.  All these fungi grow in similar habitats and often proceed Morels by a week or so.  Make a mental note of where you are, or better yet plot a waypoint on your GPS and check back in a week or two.

29 Pines Asco

While stumbling around out in the woods you are bound to come across various other things as well.  One of the more obvious is flowering plants, especially prevalent in the spring while we are out searching for Morels.  Of course, there are plants everywhere but it’s the ones in full dress that we usually take notice of the most.  There are Orchids and Lilys, Phlox and Trillium to name just a few.  This is a world that I am not overly familiar with, that of the plant kingdom.  I hope to learn more about plants but they are one of many interests I have and only so much time to learn it all.  I do my best though and thankfully I know a few experts who can help me out when I have questions.  That is one of the great things about a group like PSMS you get to know folks who themselves know quite a bit and can help you out when you have questions.

2018 Flower

Phlox diffusa, is a beautiful and common plant east of the Cascades.  This plant was blooming prolifically while we were out camping recently.

There is something life-affirming about finding a bird’s nest while out foraging.  A nest is a place where life began, was nurtured and then set forth to the world.  It sums up Spring perfectly, a fleeting yet cyclical process.

Birds nest

Sometimes you are reminded of just how fleeting spring can be.  All good things must come to an end.  I was sad to find this dead mole (image below).  Its days of digging are done but what an interesting creature to behold, perfectly suited to its life underground. Where life ends, life begins.  The ants in the photo weren’t just passing by, they were making use of the forest’s abundance, gathering what they find to sustain their own, in this instance the dead mole.  In a way that is what we’re all doing in life, gathering what we find to sustain our own, here and there sometimes we ourselves are gathered to sustain an unknown.

Mole 5x7

There are lots of interesting things in the forests, mushrooms are just one type of thing to be found.   What other things will you find while out foraging this year?  Sometimes though, you just find crap.  That too holds an interest in me, and I hope it does to the new forager as well.  A lot can be learned from even the scantest of scat, and the aspiring naturalist will document even the freshest deposits.  If for any other reason it could be a mushroom microhabitat.

2018 Bear Scat

Bear scat or at least I’m fairly sure it is.  We saw a lot of it on this trip.





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