Mushroom Hunting Season Is Here

Town and Country

Morel mushrooms are hard to find, and it's important to avoid misidentification.

Published on: March 8, 2013

Looking out my window in Kansas City, it's hard to believe March is already here. Despite the snow left on the ground after last week, spring is around the corner and Daylight Saving Time starts this weekend after what seems like a long wait – our neighbor back home used to note how the days seem to get longer a lot slower than they get shorter. With the change in seasons comes warmer weather, rain, and of course that "fresh spring" scent we all know of.

Growing up in the rolling hills of southern Iowa, spring also meant mushroom hunting for many people. Other kinds of mushrooms are hunted in other parts of the world, but in the Midwest, morels are of course the mushroom of choice. I was never very successful at it. It sounds simple enough, but morel mushrooms can be just as, if not more elusive than any fish or game. Once hunters find a good spot, they won't tell anyone else, so I'll try not to be too specific.

Certification is required to sell morels in Iowa. Workshops help identify edible morels from potentially harmful mushrooms.
Certification is required to sell morels in Iowa. Workshops help identify edible morels from potentially harmful mushrooms.

A couple friends and I always took advantage of a free block, early out, or day off from high school to get out into the timber - usually south of Highway 34 near Afton, to search near rotting logs and dead trees for morels. When someone found mushrooms, we would usually deep-fat fry them with a homemade batter, although some people are fine just cooking them or drying them for storage. Even morels shouldn't be eaten raw.

To legally sell morel mushrooms in Iowa, you need to be certified through an ISU Extension and Outreach Morel Mushroom Workshop, which helps avoid misidentification – mistaking a tasty, edible mushroom for a potentially harmful one. These workshops, offered in three locations in March and April, provide certification lasting three years. So, anyone who became certified in 2010, when the law requiring certification took effect, will need to be certified again this year.

"The aim of the workshop is to help assure that misidentified mushrooms are not sold as morels," says plant pathology professor Mark Gleason. "To meet the need for this training, we are offering a three-hour certification workshop on identifying morels and false morels."

2013 morel certification workshop locations
Altoona:
1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Polk County Extension Office, 1625 Adventureland Dr., Suite A
Bettendorf: 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 4, Scott County Extension Office, 875 Tanglefoot Lane
Dubuque: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 6, Dubuque County Extension Office, 14858 West Ridge Lane, Suite 2

The agenda for each workshop includes:
•Pre-training identification test
•Presentation on recognizing morels and false morels as well as other species of wild mushrooms
•Examination of fresh and preserved morels and false morels
•Post-training identification test (and re-testing as needed)
•Wall-size and wallet-size training certificates

Those interested in attending one of the workshops should preregister by emailing Gleason at mgleason@iastate.edu or calling 515-294-0579 by Monday, March 26. Preregistration is important, allowing appropriate space and materials to be available at all training venues.

The workshop fee is $50 per person, payable at the training. Cash or check accepted; no credit cards.

Additional questions about the workshops can be directed to Mark Gleason, 515-294-0579; mgleason@iastate.edu.