Mushroom pickers are being rewarded on their hunts this year in Washington and Oregon forests with an abundant and top-quality crop of morels, according to the Forest Service and Washington State University.
The mushrooms are starting to dry out a little, but more rain could produce another crop, said Joani Bosworth of the Umatilla National Forest.
Not only did morels, prized for their depth of flavor appear early, but there are lots of them and they are good quality, according to a mushroom expert at WSU.
“I’d say it has been a first-rate morel season,” said plant pathologist Lori Carris, a fungus researcher who is well into her 25th spring of roaming forest floors for morels. “They emerged two to three weeks earlier than any time I can remember. And for the most part, they are looking good, very good.”
Morels, with their wrinkly pinecone shape atop a stem, are a highly sought mushroom that fetches $30 to $40 pound at food stores and farm stands. And though the Northwest’s conifer forests and seasonal rains typically provide fertile habitat for them to grow, this year’s crop is “exceptional,” said Carris.
“I agree,” said Tim Gerlitz, president of the North Idaho Mycological Association. “In fact, I was notified this morning that one amateur mycologist here in northern Idaho had picked several hundred pounds over the weekend.”
Raving messages posted on mushroom blogs and websites echo the same thing: There’s a bumper crop of morels this year.
A mild winter followed by early-season sunshine provided favorable growing conditions. That combined with moderate spring temperatures and just the right amount of rain percolating through the soil likely played a big role, said Carris.
In Washington, February and March were among the warmest on record but still had normal rainfall, said meteorologist Nic Loyd of WSU’s AgWeatherNet.
The morels probably last another one to two weeks, said Carris. Her concern that their early emergence would mean an early-ending season did not pan out: “They’re still going strong.”
But novices take note. For each safe, edible mushroom that sprouts from the ground, there can be look-alikes that are poisonous, she cautioned. Recently, three family members near Bend, Ore., required emergency treatment after ingesting poisonous mushrooms that they misidentified by using a picture displayed on a phone app.
False morels, which superficially resemble the coveted true morel to the untrained eye, can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and may be carcinogenic with repeated exposure, said Carris.
“The best way to learn which mushrooms to eat is to take a mushroom identification class or go foraging with an expert,” she said. When it comes to making an ID, “when it doubt, throw it out.”