Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Spring has arrived; and beautiful yellow dandelions are beginning to bloom. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the event. For friends that I categorize as ultra-urbanized lawn care fanatics, the annual appearance of the yellow flowers is anything but welcome. Some acquaintances even go so far as to intentionally poison the colorful plants. But for those of us who stalk the elusive wild mushroom, the perspective is very different. We cherish the much maligned species. For us, the dandelion is a sure sign of good things to come.
Morel mushrooms are our most coveted wild edible. Hunting them can become an obsession; secret hotspots are guarded to the death. Timing is critical. In my view, knowing exactly when to hunt for morels is equally as important as where to hunt. There are plenty of theories to predict exactly when each year’s peak will occur. Some folks claim, for example, that morels are most abundant when backyard lilacs begin to bloom or the first violets appear in local woodlands. True for some years; but completely bogus for others. Another oft repeated theory states that mushrooms attain peak numbers when emerging oak leaves become “the exact size of squirrel’s ears”. I’ve often wondered who can get a squirrel to hold still long enough to make an accurate comparison.
Fortunately, there are three indicators that have more credibility. Two of the most trustworthy are temperature and moisture. In order to fruit, morel mushrooms need heat. An ideal climate would provide nighttime temps in the low to mid-50s with daytime highs at 70 degrees or above. A few well timed showers only add to the crop.
But the out-of-doors is filled with variables and even these signals are less than perfect. Fortunately, there is one mushroom indicator that you can rely on — every single time, every single year. That indicator is the annual appearance of those beautiful dandelions. When the dandelion’s first yellow flowers appear on open lawns or pastures, you can rest assured that the countdown has begun. Mark the event on your calendar because in exactly 10 to 12 days after the first dandelions open their buds, the peak of the annual mushroom crop will be standing in the woods, silently awaiting your arrival.
Although I’ve spent decades scouring the spring woodlands in search of fresh morels, I don’t have any “mushroom hunting secrets”. But if I did, dandelions would be it. As sure as brown trout eat mayflies, you can take this one to the bank.
So there you have it. No rigorous squirrel ear measuring or backwoods scouting required. Just keep an eye on the backyard and when the first dandelions appear, mark the calendar and plan your hunt. If temperatures remain favorable and it happens to rain during the night, you might even want to bring an extra mushroom bag. One final tip: