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A Postcard From The Morel Hunt In The Rogue Valley

A morel mushroom found in the Rogue Valley.
Erik Neumann/JPR
A morel mushroom found in the Rogue Valley.

Wild morel mushrooms, a culinary delicacy, are appearing in the mountains of Southern Oregon this time of year. While finding them can be a challenge, it’s a convenient pastime while social distancing during the pandemic.

On a recent day I ventured into the fir and pine forests surrounding Ashland at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. Like any good mushroom hunter, my location will stay anonymous; we tend to jealously guard our best spots.

Finding morels is difficult because they blend in so well with their surroundings. The white and tan honeycombed surface is easily camouflaged next to pine cones and the volcanic rock found around the Rogue Valley.

Mushrooms themselves are the fruit of a much larger organism called mycelium, thin tendrils of fungus that can spread for miles underground. When it rains, mushrooms sprout to the surface.

After a half hour of tromping through the pine needles and duff, a diamond-shaped, morel appeared before me, peeking out of the ground between a few sticks. Under the tan cap was a white stalk, hollow all the way to the mushroom’s top; another trait of a morel.

Permits to collect mushrooms are required in Oregon National Forests if you plan, or rather hope, to collect more than a gallon per day. That’s the limit for what’s known as “incidental use” which allows visitors to collect small quantities of forests products.

My day was less fruitful, topping out at a half dozen morels. Too few for any hopes of going into business, but just enough for dinner.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.