Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion George Spady led a foraging group searching for morel mushrooms Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion George Spady led a foraging group searching for morel mushrooms Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Mushroom hunters find tasty harvest on the Kenai Peninsula

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, May 23, 2015 11:07pm
  • News

The Central Kenai Peninsula is projected to yield a bountiful harvest of morel mushrooms this season. Mushroom hunters are already on the move, combing through the undergrowth and forest floor.

Effort and attention is focused on the earth charred by last year’s Funny River Horse Trail wildfire — an ideal environment for the hearty fungi.

George Spady, who organizes the recently formed enthusiast group “Kenai Peninsula Mycology Society for the Study of Mushrooms and Lichen,” said foragers are finding varied sizes of fruiting bodies in Funny River, Kasilof, Nikiski and on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“It’s one of the first mushroom species of the year,” Spady said. “People haven’t had mushrooms in their mouth for eight months and now you have these beautiful, hearty morels.”


Where to find them

The first rule of morel hunting is don’t talk about morel hunting.

Most mushroom foragers will not divulge their secret spot, Spady said.

“Once you give up your spot, it is gone forever.”

The mushroom requires released spores to reproduce, which is why it is found in roughly the same spots year after year.

Spady carries what he has collected in a mesh bag so spores can spread on the walk back to the car.

Any fungus, including lichen, requires heat and moisture to flourish, he said.

In his own experience, even in the recently burned areas, Spady has found morels lining the south facing side of marshy areas, where both of their environmental needs are met.

This year the central Kenai Peninsula hasn’t seen much rainfall, which causes some question as to whether or not the burned areas will produce an above average yield, he said.

 

Better after the burn

The United States Department of Agriculture and United States Forest Service published the results of a study on after-burn yields titled “Harvesting Morels After Wildfire in Alaska” in 2005.

The dispersal of spores during a major event is massive, according to the study. Fruiting morels are found in areas categorized as undisturbed locations, and areas where there has been a large-scale disturbance.

Events that significantly disrupt an environment include timber harvest and scarification, insect infestation or wildfire, according to the study. Larger yields may last for the first two years after the event.

“In interior Alaska, morels are most likely to be found in moderately to severely burned areas near the bases of trees,” according to the study.

 

What to look for

At the least, it is easier to spot the distinctly ridged, conical caps among the char, Spady said. The mushrooms are always tan in color, with hues that determine common names, he said. On the Kenai Peninsula, black and white morels are plentiful, he said.

Cup-fungus, which also thrives in moist, burnt areas, is a good indicator that morels are near, Spady said.

Where other fungi are popping up means those spots are also ideal for morels, he said. Morels often saddle up next to trees as well.

“Like any other fungus, morels require a symbiotic relationship with another species to survive,” Spady said.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Entomologist Matt Bowser said it is easy to tell morels apart from the species that have even the closest resemblance. However, be sure to know the differences before foraging, he said.

False morels will make the consumer ill if eaten, Bowser said. People have been known to have bad reactions to even regular morels, he said.

Bowser, while an avid forager, won’t be seeking morels this season because some of his family members get sick when they consume the mushroom.

“I don’t bother anything I can’t serve at the dinner table,” Bowser said.

There is plenty of information on morels, and it is important to educate oneself before beginning, Bowser said.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service Kenai Peninsula District office has two free publications that cover foraging and identifying morels.

 

Personal use

Morels are known for their earthy flavor and meaty flesh, said experienced forager Janice Chumley, who has been hunting mushrooms on the Kenai Peninsula for nearly one decade.

Morels are versatile, Chumley said. They can be used in sauces, sautéed separately, included in side dishes and salads, she said.

There has always been a consistent public interest in mushroom picking and personal-use foraging for various species in the area, Chumley said. Community groups like the Mycology Society have formed and disbanded through out the years, she said.

“Morels are tasty,” Chumley said. “That’s the bottom line for me.”

The mushroom should not be eaten raw, Spady said. It needs to be cooked through completely or it can make people sick, he said.

Every year members of the public seek out mushrooms and berries within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Bowser said.

While the practice is technically illegal, if picked for personal-use morels are recognized as harvestable and pickers will not be prosecuted, Bowser said.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a ruling for the refuge’s public-use regulations that would that would make taking plant species completely legal, Bowser said.

The refuge is taking public comments on the regulations through July 20, 2015, which are “aimed at balancing public use and safety with resource conservation,” according to the refuge’s website.

There is no limit to how much can be foraged, but “you really should not collect more than you can process,” Bowser said.

 

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion George Spady's foraging group found a stash of morels among the area burnt by last year's Funny River Horse Trail wildfire Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion George Spady’s foraging group found a stash of morels among the area burnt by last year’s Funny River Horse Trail wildfire Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Silas Tucker picks up one of the first morels found by his foraging group Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Silas Tucker picks up one of the first morels found by his foraging group Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Most forages won't divulge where they have found morels mushrooms, but many have located fruiting bodies in the areas burned by the 2014 Funny River Horse Trail wildfire Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

Photo by Kelly Sullivan/ Peninsula Clarion Most forages won’t divulge where they have found morels mushrooms, but many have located fruiting bodies in the areas burned by the 2014 Funny River Horse Trail wildfire Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Funny River, Alaska.

More in News

A map of Lower Skilak Campground shows the areas that will be closed in July and August 2024. (Graphic provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Areas of Lower Skilak Campground to close for repair starting Monday

The East Loop will be closed — projected to be reopened at noon on Aug. 4

Kenai Courthouse is photographed on Feb. 26, 2019, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Sterling resident sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual abuse of minors

Additionally, Crane will face 15 years of supervised probation as well as sex offender registration and treatment

Shrubs grow outside of the Kenai Courthouse on Monday, July 3, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former Soldotna police officer acquitted of 2023 assault allegations

He was found not guilty following a five-day trial in late June

A parade of cars and trucks flying flags in support of former President Donald Trump proceed down the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Residents caravan across central peninsula in support of Trump

The parade came a day after an attempted assassination of the former president

Drummers perform during a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, July 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenaitze tribe celebrates 10 years of ‘far-fetched dream’ at wellness center

Community members recognized the work done at the Dena’ina Wellness Center over the past decade

The Kenai Safeway is seen on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai and Soldotna Safeways may be sold under proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger

The local stores will be sold to CS Wholesale Grocers only if the merger overcomes suit from the FTC

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Draft plan published for disbursement of $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022 ESSN disasters

Public comment will be accepted for the draft spend plan until July 24

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
King salmon fishing closed on Kasilof starting Monday

The emergency order is being issued to protect returning king salmon, citing weak returns

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna’s city council appropriates funds for FY 2025 capital projects

Improvements are described for streets, police facility, Soldotna Creek Park and Soldotna Community Memorial Park

Most Read