ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (AP) - Morel season has arrived and mushroom gatherers across the state and the Upper Peninsula are out in pursuit of the fungal delicacy.
Morels are small, edible mushrooms that come in several varieties and are popular cooking ingredients.
Phil Tedeschi, president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, told The Oakland Press that while black morel season in the area has nearly passed, white morels are ready to sprout, particularly around fallen elm trees in area parks.
Morel mushrooms are somewhat hard to spot when they are smaller. Morels are highly sought after, which causes hunters of the mushrooms to keep the location of their patches to themselves. This mushroom was growning in a patch in the Harlow Lake area. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
There are several locations in Oakland County where mushroom hunters can find morels, which are usually located around young poplar trees or elm trees. This includes parks such as Proud Lake Recreation Area, which Tedeschi said was one of the club's occasional hunting grounds.
Gathering morel mushrooms on state-owned parks for personal use does not require a permit, though gatherers should be considerate of the environment in reaching their prize. Plucking a morel from the ground entirely rather than cutting can damage the fungus's root-like mycelia.
Tedeschi said morel hunters should be considerate and not damage the harvesting grounds for later enthusiasts.
"One thing that disturbs me is when people go into the woods with rakes," he said. "They're destroying the next week's crop."
Brittany Bird, Natural Resources Planner for Oakland County Parks and Recreation, said that Oakland County parks have been opened to morel hunters in recent years, allowing them to veer off the beaten path and search for the mushrooms - so long as they are considerate of the environment, of course.
"We diverged from our traditional rule from staying on the trails at all times," she said. "We ask that people don't pick any of the wild flowers to take and to use open-weave baskets to help distribute some of the mushroom spores as a means of keeping the mushrooms present."
Morel hunters should be wary of the dangers of straying too far off the trail and bring a park map and compass to navigate. Massasauga rattlesnakes are a threat this time of year as well, she said.
"When lots of folks may be looking for morels, that's also the time of year when rattlesnakes are beginning to emerge," she added. "You want to be conscious of hearing the buzzing sound that they may make if you're getting too close to them."
The Hawk Woods Nature Center in Auburn Hills is another location in Oakland County where black and white morels are known to grow. Mike Mansour, Flying WILD Michigan Coordinator at the nature center, said the search for morel mushrooms requires patience and keen eyesight.
"There's no doubt about it; it takes a certain kind of eye to find morels because they're camouflaged."
Morel hunters should be aware of lookalikes, including Gyromitra esculenta, also known as the brain mushroom, a "false morel" that can cause fatal poisoning if ingested. This mushroom is typically brown with a white to pale tan stalk and a wavy or lobed cap that does not contain pits like normal morel mushrooms.
Mansour said morel mushrooms are generally difficult to mistake for other less-desirable (and more poisonous) ones, but caution should still be taken when gathering them.
"They don't look like any other mushroom," he said, recommending that gatherers take a photo with them to identify the fungus to avoid making a mistake. "They're sort of a sponge with an oval top on them, but they have different shapes and different sizes."
Those who wish to collect morels should do it quickly, as the window to gather them is relatively small.
"May is always the best time in this area and almost all of Michigan," he said. "They come up within three days and then you can't see them again."