Among other things, the months of April and May in Indiana are noted for a singular pastime that is pursued with almost religious fervor: morel mushroom hunting.
Once the “sponges” start popping, starting south and working northward, mushroom hunters begin sneaking through every patch of woods and trees in the state hoping to find the elusive morel. If they find them, the notoriously tight-lipped hunters won’t share a sliver of information even under threat of physical harm.
Though he probably won’t tell you his own top-secret “honey holes,” one person who does love to share information about morel mushrooms is Tom Nauman of Morel Mania, Inc. Tom is a well-known lecturer on the subject of mushroom hunting and runs the business morelmania.com. We caught up with Tom and asked him about his ideas for finding morel mushrooms.
When asked about his personal favorite location to find mushroom, Nauman is quick to the point. “Short answer is ‘In the woods,’” he says. “The truth is that morels are wherever you find them. I have seen morels growing through the dirt floor of a garage, through a crack in a cement driveway and even in the window well of a basement. But, if you want to find a lot of them, you’ll be near an elm tree that has died within the past five years; an ash tree, a tulip poplar, a cotton wood, or an ancient apple orchard. There are others too, but those are the most common.”
He is also quick to point out that getting out in the woods and hunting is more important than the specific spot, though local knowledge does play a part. He notes, “Finding morels is about 90% luck. The other 10% is knowing when and where to get lucky at.”
The other key factor is weather. There are as many theories of ideal mushroom growing weather conditions as there are mushroom hunters but Nauman is quite specific on the key triggers he uses when planning a hunt. “(I look for) overnight lows above 55 degrees,” he said, along with “daytime highs below 70 degrees. An inch of rain every three days.”
Nauman, based in central Illinois, will be in Indiana several times during the upcoming season. He recommends the Simply Music Simply Mushrooms Festival April 24-26 in Brown County, Indiana (see related article) as an excellent opportunity for novice mushroom hunters to learn from the experts.
He also noted that, as a last resort, “…for those who can’t find any, there is an auction of fresh morels at the Mansfield Mushroom Festival April 25 & 26 in Parke County, Indiana.”