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MOREL FIELD NOTES 2003 by Bob Hosh

As spring approached this year we had ample rain in New Jersey to insure a good morel season. However, temperatures, especially nighttime temperatures, strayed into the mid-thirties and low forties degrees Fahrenheit. As a result the season seemed to get off to a slow start. In late April there were reports of club members finding Black morels (Morchella elata) which species appears early in the season along with the half free morel (M. semilibera) both of which seem to prefer cooler temperatures to fruit.

Such were the conditions during the first week of May when Bob Peabody, Tamara Homer and I ventured out as a team to hunt morels. Since it was mid-week and still cool even during the day we decided to start our search in central New Jersey were we speculated the air and soil temperatures would be warmer; especially on slopes or hillsides that were warmed by the sun. Bob Peabody was our guide and he led us to a southeastern facing wooded slope with stands of large oak, beech, maple, and ash trees. As Bob parked the car on the road shoulder overlooking a babbling brook separating us from our goal Tamara piped up from the back seat, “The first to find a morel gets paid a dollar each by the other two!”

Laughing I said, “Well, you may as well fork over the two dollars!”

Which prompted Tamara to counter with, “You are that confident?”

“Yes, I said, you’ll see!

Clambering out of the car we tucked in our pant legs and sprayed repellent on our clothes for good measure to keep off the ticks.

We crossed the brook on stepping-stones and made our way through the undergrowth to the base of the slope and began our upward climb. It was difficult going since the 40-degree angle of the hillside became the ‘slope from hell’! I was in the lead and about 30 feet up the slope under some towering beech and ash trees I found our first two morels of the day! Much to Tamara’s chagrin. Our hopes buoyed by the find we proceeded up the steep slope. It was slow going with many stops for rest and we reached the top, but found no morels. We decided to return to the car. Tamara returning by one route and Bob and I by another. During our descent we encountered Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) trees and I found one more morel, a small variety that frequently grows near this tree.

Our next hunting site was one I would have never considered a good morel habitat; a gently sloping hillside facing southeast that terminated in a low-lying swampy area. However it was populated by very large trees mostly oak, hickory and white ash. Here again I was first to find large Yellow morels (M. esculenta). We were beginning to notice an emerging pattern. We were finding morels under White ash (Fraxinus americana); not young trees, but mature healthy trees, 90-100 feet tall with trunks at least 14 inches in diameter! Our last stop this day was high atop a hill in an old growth forest of Yellow poplar, oak, and White ash. Here we found some over-the-hill Black morels and under a towering White ash caespitose clusters of young Yellow morels (M. esculenta)!



Clusters of Yellow Morels growing under White Ash

Two days later just Bob and I decided to investigate farther north in hopes of finding some stands of viable Elm trees still producing fruitings of morels. In years past dying or dead elms (Ulmus americana) was a good place to look for morels. The average morel producing life of a dead elm tree is about 4 years.  Once all the bark has fallen off the tree and only a naked ‘skeleton’ is left standing no more morels will be found. On our drive up north we stopped at the site of an old apple orchard where we had picked a large number of morels last year, but that tree did not have any this year. So we scouted around under some trees on the far side of the orchard and found 18 morels under two of the trees.



Morel (Morchella esculenta) under old apple tree

By late morning we had arrived at out destination; a series of limestone ridges with meadows between them. The ridges had many dead elms (long dead), oaks, maples, hickory and White ash. Bob climbed up on top of the ridge and I skirted the north side of the ridge walking among the long dead elms and ashes. It was here that I found an ample patch of Black morels (M. elata) just emerging and poking through the leaves. Not far from these Black morels Bob found a few Yellow morels.  We also found plenty of the Half-Free morels in this area.



A Black Morel fruiting on the cool north side of the ridge.

After lunch we headed to an old apple tree that I’d picked morels under in years past. It was raining gently and tree had several large morels growing under it! Unfortunately, we had to cut short our stay and head for home.

Three days later we headed up to the same general area Tamara with us again.  We saw many dead elms again, but few or no morels under them. Above the dead elms on top of a large limestone ridge we saw some large White ash trees and climbed up to investigate. Bob was in the lead and immediately found several large morels under the White ash trees! Tamara and I found some too! And later farther along the ridge Bob found some Black morels as well! As we made our way back to the car we walked along a ridge that had some old apple trees, but found no mushrooms. Tamara took a short cut through a field and stumbled on a troop of very large Yellow morels growing in the grass. This was a very odd find as there were no trees of any kind near this troop of morels. The only woody shrub near the spot was Russian olive (Elaeagnus augustifolia). The field was a farm field used for crops for many years before it was let to return to nature.  It was very puzzling finding morels in this location!

After lunch we again headed to a more southerly site. Here there were many dead or dying elms and morels! It was a thrilling sight to find them scattered on the forest floor among the elms. These Yellow morels were almost all large and perfect for picking!



A Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) growing under dying elms.

What we learned from our 3 days of morel hunting is that we will not be able to rely on the dying elms to provide us with the bountiful crops of mushrooms as in past years. Instead we will have to find our favorite Spring mushroom under old apple trees and large, mature White Ash! The 2003 morel season in New Jersey was unique in that we had more cool cloudy, overcast, or rainy days than warm sunny days. As a result we were finding Black morels throughout the season not just at the beginning, as is usually the case. Despite the erratic weather the season did have it’s rewards!