Morels grow on the ground in broad-leaf forests, grassy woodlands, burned areas, and along woodland streams. They are thought to be associated with trees, so look near species such as yellow (tulip) poplar, ash (green, white), elm (American, Red), and apple trees. Search for them in the leaf litter and under downed logs around the base of these trees.
William C. Roody’s, Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians recognizes six varieties of edible, true morels, each belonging to the Genus Morchella. These include blacks (Pecks morel, snakeheads), yellow (common), tulip, white, and the half-free morel. Each of them has a cap that is cone-shaped and has irregular ridges that strikingly resemble the patterns on a yellow (tulip) poplar tree. The half-free morel is somewhat different from the others, having a more-pronounced stalk, and is the only morel with a margin that is not attached to the stalk.
Be cautious of false morels; they superficially resemble true morels, and are toxic when consumed. One positive way to distinguish them is by slicing the entire mushrooms vertically, from the top of the cap the bottom of the stem. A true morel will be hollow, whereas a false morel will be solid. False morels tend to be solitary while true morels will be found in groups. It is best to consult a field guide or local experts to gain positive identification of any mushroom before consumption.
When hunting them, carry them in a mesh bag to allow contact with open air which delays decay and possibly allows spore distribution to new areas. Before cooking, brush lightly with a wet towel or rinse to remove dirt and insects. Whether you call them moochers or morels, if you enjoy mushrooms, you will enjoy their earthy taste. Saute in butter or “bread” with cornmeal and fry to gain the full splendor of their natural flavor. ~ Joshua Daniel