by Lowell Washburn
Spring has finally arrived; dandelions are beginning to bloom. For ultra-urbanized lawn care fanatics, the annual appearance of the dandelion’s familiar yellow flower is most unwelcome. But for those of us who stalk the elusive wild mushroom, it’s a sure sign of good things to come.
No one can argue that the full flavored morel mushroom is our most sought after wild edible. Hunting them can easily become an obsession, and favored hotspots are well guarded secrets. Timing is critical. Knowing exactly when to hunt for morels is equally as important as where you hunt. There are plenty of theories pointing to when each year’s “peak mushroom hatch” will supposedly occur. Some folks claim, for example, that morels are most abundant when backyard lilacs begin to bloom or when the first violets appear in local woodlands. True for some years; but completely false for others. Another frequently repeated theory states that mushrooms will attain peak numbers when emerging oak leaves become “the size of squirrel’s ears”. Can’t comment on that one. I’ve never been able to get a squirrel to hold still long enough to make the comparison.
Fortunately, there are a handful of indicators that bear 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 full of variables and, as good as these signals may be, they’re less than perfect. Fortunately, there is one mushroom indicator that beats all others -- every single time, every single year. That indicator is the annual appearance of dandelions. When the dandelion’s first yellow flowers appear on 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 this year’s mushroom crop will be standing in woods, silently awaiting your arrival.
Although I love scouring the spring woodlands in search of fresh morels, I don’t have any “mushroom hunting secrets.” 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 want to bring an extra mushroom bag.