Wet, Cold Winter Means Happy Hunting For Arizona Morel Mushroom Hunters

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Monday, May 2, 2016 - 8:34am
Updated: Monday, May 2, 2016 - 8:39pm
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(Photo by Dennis Murphy - CC BY 2.0)
Morel mushrooms.

April showers bring May … mushrooms? Arizona’s winter has led to a great season for morel hunting.

Little morel mushrooms poke out of the ground when there are three conditions — a cold winter, lots of moisture and a disturbance, like fire, to the area.

El Niño brought the wet winter and wildfires brought the disturbance, so this spring, foragers can look forward to finding an abundant crop of morels in the northern part of the state.

Erik Nelson studies mushrooms at Northern Arizona University, and said while it’s tempting to go searching for morels, their remote locations mean that can be unsafe.

“You often find them in rocky slopes in areas that are away from the main roads, so just accessing these areas often requires four wheel drive vehicles and good maps,” he said.

Of course, what everyone really wants to know is where to find them. Nelson suggests looking in the White Mountain Wallow Fire area and Ponderosa forests later in May.

Morels are coveted by the local cuisine scene around Flagstaff, but he said unless you find them on private land, you’re better off not selling your extras.

“Currently, none of our national forests in Arizona have a mushroom permitting system for commercial harvest so there is no situation in which you can collect them from the national forest and sell them legally,” Nelson said.

Some restaurants have offered trades, though. And if you’re looking for the best place to forage, experts say look for past burn sites, and combine that with recent moisture maps to see where they overlap.

The Arizona Mushroom Society also puts together group forays to bring amateur mycologists together and help find the much-sought-after mushshrooms.