Unlocking the Secrets to Morel Foraging: All About Those Trees

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Apple/Pear

These two trees are combined together because the majority of them are human-planted/human-cultivated. You generally won’t find these “in the woods” unless they’re leftover from an abandoned homestead or property.

Use caution when foraging from old apple orchards. The trees and land may have been treated by harsh chemicals in days gone by – a common practice. There are no reported incidents regarding this issue, but it’s best to use caution and only eat morels from these locations with moderation.

Identification:

Apple trees are typically small to medium-sized with a short trunk and wide-spreading branches. They have dark brown bark, and their leaves are oval-shaped with serrated edges. Pears grow 30-55 feet tall, have a narrow crown top, and alternately arranged leaves with shapes varying by species.

Region:

Apple trees are native to Europe but were brought to North America by colonists. They can now be found throughout the United States, especially in the Midwest and Northeast regions.

Tips:

  • Look for orchards or abandoned farmsteads with remnants of apple trees.
  • You can also find apple trees along fence rows, hedgerows, or old-growth forests.
  • It is more common to find morels around old apple trees, but that is not a limiting factor.
  • Apple trees take a long time to die, so morel flushes are usually consistent and prolific in these locations.

Morels: M. americana, M. angusticeps, M. cryptica

old apple orchard
old apple orchards are a fantastic spot for morel foraging
apple tree buds
Apple trees may be starting to bud when morels appear — it’s usually close to the same time

Ash (White Ash and other Ash species)

Ash trees are fighting a rugged battle right now against the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle native to northeastern Asia. They are not winning this battle, unfortunately. The effect or consequences this will have on morels is unknown. Many morel species depend on ash trees, though none rely on it exclusively.

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Identification:

Ash trees have diamond-shaped bark patterns with a pale grayish-white color. The leaves are compound and typically have five to nine leaflets with a glossy dark green color on top and a lighter green on the underside. These trees grow upwards of 80 feet.

Region:

Ash trees can be found throughout North America, particularly in the eastern and central regions of the continent.

Tips:

  • Look for these trees in wooded areas or along stream banks.
  • They tend to prefer rich, well-drained soils.
  • There is debate among foragers whether morels prefer live ash trees as opposed to dead ones. Both will fruit morels, but many say it is more common and prolific with live trees.

Morels: M. americana, M. angusticeps, M. septentrionalis, M. cryptica, M. diminutiva

ash tree
Ash trees have very distinctive bark
ash tree leaves
Ash tree leaves have serrated edges and grow compound
green ash tree
Green ash tree

Aspen

Identification:

Aspen trees have smooth, pale gray bark with black markings. They have small, circular leaves that flutter in the wind, making them easy to identify.

Region:

Aspen trees are found throughout much of North America, from Alaska down to Mexico. They are especially prevalent in the western half of the continent, including states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.

Tips:

  • Aspen trees are typically found in areas with moist soil, like along rivers, streams, or wetlands.
  • They prefer areas with full sunlight, so they may not be found in heavily shaded areas.

Morels: M. septentrionalis

aspen trees
Aspens often grow in large groupings
aspen tree leaves
Aspen leaves fluttering is a song to remember

Cottonwood

Identification:

Cottonwood trees are recognizable by their thick, furrowed bark and large, triangular-shaped leaves with a distinctive toothed edges. The leaves are also slightly pointed at the tip.

Region:

Cottonwoods are found throughout the United States and Canada, with the exception of some parts of the Midwest. Black cottonwoods grow west of the Rocky Mountains, occurring in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, and Idaho. Small populations of black cottonwood are also found in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah.

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Tips:

  • Look for cottonwoods near streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. They prefer wet soil and are often found in floodplains.
  • Soil that is sandy or loamy is best – anything muddy or super swampy isn’t a good place to look for morels.
  • Cottonwood trees can grow up to 100 feet tall, so keep an eye out for towering trees with thick trunks.

Morels: M. americana, M. populiphila (black cottonwood)*

black cottonwood
Towering trees? Black cottonwood delivers
black cottonwood leaves
Black cottonwood leaves
swamp cottonwood
Swamp cottonwood
swamp cottonwood leaves
Swamp cottonwood leaves
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>