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- Created on Friday, 25 February 2011 12:56
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Every year thousands of people search out black morels (Morchella elata) in areas scorched by wildfires. For reasons not yet understood, black morels will grow in massive quantities the year after an area has been hit by a forest fire. Because of the massive quantities of mushrooms these burns can create, it has made fire morel (aka: burn morel) hunting a commercial enterprise where pickers can make up to $20 pound.
Fire morels are sold to distributors and restaurants all over the world, with the bulk going to restaurants in Europe and North America. Europeans consider the fire morel a delicacy and will pay top dollar for them.
Professional Mushroom Hunter holding a Large Fire Morel
Where to find Fire Morels
Before you can find the fire morel, you must first find old forest fire sites. Although fire morels will grow for multiple years after a wildfire hits an area, the year after the fire will by far produce the most morels. Typically, you want to seek out an area of coniferous forests that has been hit by a large wildfire. Usually, the larger the area, the more of a chance you have to find morels on it.
Lucky, the internet has made both finding old forest fire sites and finding specific information on these fires easy. Below are couple good resources that will help you track down details on forest fires in North America:
Geomac.gov: This is an excellent site for info on forest fires in the USA. Click on the “GeoMac Viewer” and you can view forest fire locations by date, overlaid on a map of the US. You can even zoom into local areas and use different map views like topographic and street maps. Once you’ve found an ingesting fire location, you can click on it to get the details.
Fire.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca: This is a great resource of links that will direct you specific information on forest fires in Canada. You’ll find links to all the provincial forest fire management sites, where you can then view maps and detailed information on past wild fires.
Once you’ve found some prospective old burns, the next problem is when to start looking for the morels. Fire morels will start fruiting the spring/summer seasons, but timing is heavily dependent on climate, weather and elevation. As a general rule, fire morels will fruit from March to May in the warmers area of the USA, while the northern areas of the USA and most of Canada will start fruiting from late April to July. Elevation has to be taken into account, since many forest fires happen high in the mountains where winter is slow to leave.
Once spring has hit an area, morel pickers will usually check their choice locations weekly, looking for signs of morels. It’s good to select a few different burns to search if possible, as not all forest fire locations produce morels. When an area starts producing morels, the mushrooms are usually easy to find as they are fairly obvious against the backdrop of barren burnt forest floor. Make sure to spot check multiple areas in a burn, as not all areas of burn will produce morels.
You can of course save yourself the time and effort of finding burn morel picking locations yourself and simply keep an eye on the mushroom message boards, as heavy producing morel area aren’t kept secret for long. Although the first pickers in an area get the early bird advantage of all the choice picking and usually make the most money. You can also try calling local mushroom buyers to see if they have had any morels sold to them yet. This will at least tell you if the season has started and you may even get info on where the morels are being picked.
Remember that you may end up driving on harsh forestry roads to access morel picking locations, so make sure your vehicle is ready for the trip with emergency items like a spare tire or two. It’s preferable to use a vehicle with high clearance and 4 wheel drive, when driving to remote locations.
Typical area where fire morels are found. Rocky Mountains, BC, Canada
Equipment needed for Morel Hunting
1.) Good boots: You’ll be covering a variety of different terrain when fire morel hunting, possibly carrying a lot of extra weight (if you’re lucky), so make sure your footwear is up to it. I prefer a good pair of hiking boots for my hunting adventures.
2.) Large buckets: Most pickers will bring heavy-duty plastic pales with them to collect the mushrooms in. You should drill holes in the bottom of the pails to drain any water that might collect there. Some pickers will use trays that they strap to a modified pack board for easy carrying.
3.) Extra Clothes: The weather can always change when you’re picking, sometimes drastically if you’re in the mountains. Make sure to bring some extra warm clothes and a rain jacket. You should also only bring clothes you don’t care about as a good day of picking means that you’ll leave the forest looking like you just left a coal mine.
4.) Water: Trust me; you’re going to get thirsty. And you may need it to clean yourself off at the end of the day.
5.) Medical/Safety Kit: At least one person in your group should carry some basic safety/medical gear with them, as you never know when someone going to take a fall.
6.) Handheld GPS (optional): Having a GSP with the ability to view topo maps is a great investment for mushroom hunters. Not only will it help you locate the forest burns, but you can also use it mark out productive area so you can come back a check for more flushes at later dates. Furthermore, it can come in handy when you’ve spent too much time looking at the ground, picking mushrooms and realize you don’t know what direction your parked in.
7.) Friends: As many as possible. I’ve found that the more eyes you have with you looking, the more mushrooms everyone finds. Make sure to break up to cover more area. Two way radios are great idea for keeping in contact over distances.
Picking the Mushrooms
Buyers only want quality mushrooms, so make sure not to abuse the ones you pick. The easiest way to pick morels is too pinch the mushroom stock where it meets the ground between your thumb nail and forefinger, cleanly separating the stalk from the ground. You can use a knife, but you’ll find that it makes for slower progress and you’ll more than likely end up losing it at one point.
Mushrooms that are in bad shape should be left behind. If you want to collect these mushrooms, make sure to keep them separate from your quality pickings. Keep your picking as clean as possible as you don’t want to be hauling half the forest floor back with you and buyers don’t want to be buying dirt and pine needles.
Fire Morels fruiting from the burnt forest floor
Selling your Fire Morel Mushrooms
If you’re lucky, you’ll be picking in an area that’s productive enough for buyers to come set-up road site selling stations in your location. If there aren’t any buyers in the area, you should make sure to contact possible buyers before you head out to see how many mushrooms they’ll take and what price they’ll pay. Alternatively, you can also contact local restaurants and markets to see if you can directly sell your mushroom to them. You can also try selling both your dried and fresh morels online via sites like craigslist and ebay.
When selling to buying stations, remember that prices can differ day to day as morels are very much a supply and demand business. Prices are usually the best at the beginning of the season and gradually fall as the picking season continues.
Tip: Try to haggle with buyers as their proposed price is not set in stone, especially if you have quality mushrooms.
Baskets of Black Morels at a Mushroom Buying Station