Friday, June 14, 2013

Using maps to find Morels, Part 2

I began this series with a question: can I use maps to help predict where morels will grow?  After some investigation, my initial answer is yes - and no.

Morels & Fire

Morels, especially black morels, often grow in areas recently burned by forest fires.  They can be one of the first species to return to a burned area and begin to transform the burned terrain into habitat for the next wave of fungi and plants.  Birds and other critters are attracted to the morels (yes, you have competition from many) and leave seed-rich droppings to restore the forest.

This area burned in a forest fire in 2011

If you know what conditions morels like, then it is much easier to make a solid guess as to where they might grow. Morels like disturbed earth, and also show up in areas that flooded, or near trails or campsites. Here's an interesting write up of a study in the San Juan National Forest in Colorado on morels after a forest fire by Holly Miller at the

Where to find fire data

My best source of fire location data is InciWeb, the Incident Information System, a government interagency incident information management system.  They especially focus on wild fires and will publish locations and maps of current fires.  You can also find maps of fires that happened in the last few years.

One of the many maps of the Mustang Complex fire available at inciweb

InciWeb maps are an incredible resource, both for looking at past fires, and for fires that are currently in progress. I used this site to plan trips last year during the height of fire season to avoid trails and regions closed due to fire danger.  However, the maps on the internet are scans that get blurry when you zoom in enough to read location names.

When I look at inciweb, I pull up the corresponding area on hillmap, and use what markers I can see on the inciweb map to pinpoint areas on hillmap - then I plan my trip using the higher resolution hillmap.

For example, I see that the Mustang Complex fire is bordered on the East by Highway 93 and gets close to the highway at North Fork, Idaho.

I can zoom in on the hillmap to see roads, trailheads and other important info for trip logistics.

I also use newspaper and google searches to figure out where fires burned in the last two years.

Indicator species

I only found two small morels on my first trip using fire data to find them.  But I did find a plethora of Black Cup mushrooms, a species related to morels.  Black cups also thrive in recently burned areas.  (I am not 100% sure that these are black cups, the mushroom guide book says that cup mushrooms are notoriously difficult to identify, however, they look like black cups and they are growing in similar conditions).

The black cups gave me hope that I was in the right kind of place but possibly at the wrong time.  The next location I tried yielded a modest bounty - enough for a tasty dinner of morels & pasta in cream sauce.  A couple weeks later I revisited both spots: at the first spot I found zero morels and the second spot was thick with them.

Elevation, Aspect, Temperature and Precipitation

Like finding your true love, the key to finding morels is being at the right place at the right time in the right frame of mind.  A potentially daunting, but thrilling, experience.

Too late!  These morels would have been prime a week or so ago

The largest morel I've found this year, surprisingly close to cedar trees

I took the two photos above on the same day, on opposite sides of a creek.  The dried out mushrooms in the top photo were on a bench 30 or 40 feet above the creek.  The huge, fresh morel in the bottom photo was in a protected spot at a slightly lower elevation.

Morels need the right amount of moisture, as well as the correct soil temperature, to thrive.  Elevation, aspect, slope and precipitation are key variables in their growth.  My next post on using maps to find morels will take a look at how to be at the right place at the right time - but I need to do some more delicious research before publishing my observations.


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