Catch the Mania
Hunting burn morels in the West is an incredibly rewarding hobby. If you are from the East, South or Midwest you may even be thinking, what the heck are “burn morels”? Each year after a wildfire, typically West of the Rockies, morels will fruit abundantly in the right type of charred forest. While technically a different species, these morels taste and look the same as any other morel. If you have ever purchased morels from the store, they are likely western burn morels. Commercial hunters flock to the west starting in California and following the season often all the way up to Alaska as the mushrooms head up in elevation.
Trent and I began studying and hunting burn morels years ago. Every single trip to hunt burns in the West has been a wonderful adventure. When you can collect a 5 gallon bucket full of tasty morels in just a few hours, you become absolutely giddy. The experience is truly like nothing you can imagine. And wildfire scars, although sad and horribly destructive, are also incredibly beautiful as they teem with new life. I would never wish a wildfire on any area, but it seems Mother Nature has dictated they are here to stay. The resulting morels are a benefit that many do not know about.
How We Hunt
We are excited to officially release our 2022 burn morel maps! These maps detail forest fires from the huge 2021 fire season that are promising for burn morels. Once again the West had a tough year of burns, especially California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho.
With millions of acres burned last season, the inspection and curation process was incredibly time consuming. We missed our earliest release by a few days, but we’re super excited to have the bulk of the state maps ready.
New Map Features for 2022
Burn Morel Prediction Maps
We’ve added a super cool new feature this year – morel hot spot prediction maps. We created an algorithm that uses terrain data such as tree cover, tree type, elevation, and aspect, to predict where burn morels are more likely to be fruiting within each fire. The prediction map is color coded in the style of a heat map, where yellow and yellow/green denotes hot spots!
Burn Severity Maps
You will also find a new map tab showing burn severity for nearly every rated fire in the 11 Western states. This tool uses a comparison model that looks at pre-fire and post fire satellite visuals to calculate severity. Cloud cover can get in the way, so it’s not perfect, but it does a pretty good job! These maps are only for 2022 burns we rated as A level burns. Some burns we were unable to rate due to a lack of before and after satellite pictures.
We’ve added fire perimeters for British Columbia this year. Alberta will be coming as soon as fire data is released in April! These fires are not curated – there are lot of them! British Columbia had a huge fire season last year. Also, because most of our map data is provided by the US federal government, we are unable to show some of our base maps in Canada and our Burn Severity maps and our Burn Morel Prediction Maps also are un available.
GET YOUR 2022 BURN MAPS NOW >
There is a lot of good news for fire morel hunters in 2022. There are more A fires, in more states than we have ever seen. Here is a state by state rundown:
Oregon has 13 fires rated as “A” totaling over 725000 acres. The fires tend to be on the Eastern slope of the cascades and mostly in Southern Oregon. Compared to last year, they are further from population centers and higher elevations. This bodes well for epic May and June harvests because the Eastern slopes are generally more productive than the Western slopes and the higher elevations are also more productive. For most Oregonians, these are not “day-trip” fires and are a bit more remote.
Colorado only has 2 “A” rated fires this year which may make them a bit competitive.
California once again had fires from top to bottom. This year there are 9 “A” fires covering over 2 million acres.
Arizona has 4 “A” rated fires this year.
Washington makes the list as one of the best states to hunt this year. It has 10 “A” rated fires covering over 500,000 acres.. The fires are widely dispersed on the Eastern slopes of the Cascade range with a heavier concentration in the Northern portion of the state.
Idaho seems to be a perennial hot-spot for burn morels. 2022 is no different with 10 “A” rated fires across 100,000 acres.
Wyoming only has 1 “A” rated fires this year totaling 7500 acres.
New Mexico has 2 “A” rated fires this year.
Utah has 1 “A” rated fire this year.
Montanais on the map big time with 11 “A” rated fires this year and 240,000 acres burned. We have our eye on MT this year as it’s closer to us in WI!
Alaska fires are mapped, but do not provide ratings because we haven’t learned enough about the habitat and local morel tendencies.
(NEW!) British Columbia all fires are mapped, Canadian burn data only allows for burn perimeters, topo map and satellite imagery.
A few disclaimers:
- We do the best we can with what we know! Some locales are less familiar than others. California for instance is a state where we have less direct knowledge. If you see something we missed, please let us know. We include a map of every burn in every state, so you can dig deeper beyond our shortened “curated maps” if you wish.
- We don’t look for exceptions, we seek abundance. Morels are fickle and ironic. They can be found in all kinds of weird places. We are focused on what we think are the best and most likely places to pick when we rate fires. We love it when our subscribers contact us and advise me that I missed something! Please don’t hesitate to reach out – email@example.com.
GET YOUR 2022 BURN MAPS >
Year Two Burns
How long after a burn do morels grow? As most people know, the best fruiting happen the first year after a fire. However, as we learn more and talk to other hunters, it is clear that year two and even three can be productive. This is especially true if the burn didn’t fruit in the first year.
Because of the drought conditions that covered the West last year, starting in early May, many of of the 2021 fires may pick well in 2022. They didn’t fruit well in 2021! Plus, many of these fires, especially in Oregon on the Western Cascades, were closed to pickers by the USFS.
We include maps to the last 2 or 3 years in our package. With the epic droughts in some places, it might be worth revisiting those maps.
Questions? Let’s connect – ask the map man, Trent, directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hunting for morels
Morels are most commonly found in woodlands or woody edges. Morels grow under or around decaying elms, ash, poplar and apple trees. Other preferred sites include south facing slopes, burned (forest fire) or logged woodlands and disturbed areas.
Generally, morels start to show up in the Deep South around the end of March, and don't show themselves in the northern half of the country until about mid-May. Usually this is a good time of year to walk around with just long-sleeve shirts finally after a winter of wearing jackets.
"Habitats with tulip poplar trees seem to be really good places to look," he said. "Areas with ash trees can also be productive. Sometimes you'll find the motherlode under black cherry trees."
- Late March through early May is best time to find morels.
- Live or decaying/dying ash, elm and apple trees are popular locations.
- They grow in wet conditions when soil temperatures are 50 degrees.
- It's best to hunt around sunrise before it gets too hot.
Once the soil gets to a nice, warm temperature (around 50-ish degrees) and a good rain happens, you can expect morel mushrooms to start sprouting 10-12 days after the rainfall. Finding morels after rain is a great time to hunt.
Daytime temperatures that range in the 60s and 70s with nighttime temperatures no lower than 40 degrees also help to provide the best growing environment.
If the night temperatures fall to 32℉ or lower, morels will die. If the period of frost is brief, there may be no visible damage to them.
Usually, the mushrooms grow on the edges of wooded areas, especially around oak, elm, ash, and aspen trees. Look for dead or dying trees while you're on the hunt too, because morels tend to grow right around the base. Another good place to check for mushrooms is in any area that's been recently disturbed.
The time a morel mushroom takes from fruiting to maturity is very rapid. As soon as the head pokes up out of the ground, the clock is ticking. They will get to maturity and be ready to be harvested in 10-15 days. During the first few days, it is likely you won't even see them because the heads are so small.
Watch for a sloped hill: The side of a hill that gets more sunshine will be where morels start to show first, especially south-facing slopes. Watch for certain types of trees: Morels can grow on trees, especially elm, ash, poplar and apple trees. They have even been found under pine trees!
Black morels come up first, around the time of the first trout lilies, ramps, and trillium. What is this? Three weeks later, you'll begin seeing yellow morels. They arrive alongside the first dandelions and wild strawberry flowers.
A wet spring is often a harbinger to a good mushroom year. But a string of nights when the temperature is at or above 50 degrees is the real trigger. “When you have a week of 50 degree nights and some rain, then morels should be coming.”
Did you know that Morel mushrooms and other Fungi fluoresce under filtered longwave 365nm light? The cheap uv lights won't work. But the Convoy C8 really lights them up! Great for mushroom hunters and rock pickers alike!
These might include mayapples, or umbrella plants, and trilliums, with their unique three-leaf stems. The presence of such plants is no guarantee that morels are growing among them, but it's a pretty good indicator that they're around somewhere close.
With the cooperative weather conditions the morel can survive for up to two (2) weeks before the natural decay process is likely to set in and begin to take place. Again, the weather has so much do with the life cycle and most morel hunters will agree it is by far the most important factor.
March: Usually looking below 2,000 ft in elevation. Early blacks are commonly found up to 2,500 or 3,000 feet in a warmish spring. July: 6,000 feet and above.
After you strain and remove the mushrooms you'll have a liquid with millions of spores! What is this? This spore liquid can be spread over a prepared bed as described above (sandy soil with peat moss, ashes, and wood chips). It can also be spread in other known morel habitats, such as at the base of dying elm trees.
A good spring rain can bring on the morels. They like the humidity and the warm, moist air. When the sun pops after a fresh rain keep your eyes open they can pop out of nowhere.
They appear on southerly slopes and in sunny spots before showing up on northern slopes or in the shade. Natural indicators that it's time to look for morels include lilacs budding, open mayapples, and flowering bloodroot, trillium, dandelion, and columbine.
But generally the best places to find morels are near trees, creek beds and mayflowers, said Paden. They grow most commonly under apple, elm, hickory, pine, poplar, and sycamore trees.