Morels grow under pine trees because they like the acidic soil that pine trees create. They also have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the pine tree. This symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhiza.
Morels are a highly valuable edible mushroom used at the most high-end restaurants, while also eaten by the average mushroom forager. They can be found in a few places in the forest, including under pine trees. Read on to learn more about morels!
What are pine trees?
Pine trees are conifers and evergreens. They produce resin.
There are 126 different kinds of pine trees. Pine trees can live anywhere between 100 and 1,000 years.
Their bark is typically scaly and thick, but in some species it is flaky and thin. There are four different types of leaves on pine trees: seed leaves, juvenile leaves, scale leaves, and needles.
Pine trees produce cones. They can be found nearly anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.
What are morels?
Morels are mushrooms that have a spongy texture and a cap that is shaped like a cone. Their colors range from pale cream to black.
They are hollow. Morels are usually found in wooded areas in North America.
They are hard to farm, so they often have to be foraged. This adds to their monetary value and appeal in high culinary restaurants.
Why do morels grow under pine trees?
When cones and needles fall off of pine trees, it makes the soil acidic. This creates harsh growing conditions for a lot of mushrooms.
However, morels love these conditions. It helps them grow.
There is a mutually beneficial exchange that happens between morels and pine tree roots. This is an evolutionary advantage that keeps morels drawn to pine trees. This is called mycorrhiza.
What is mycorrhiza?
Mycorrhiza is a symbiotic relationship between fungi and the roots of vascular plants, including trees. Both the mushrooms and the trees benefit from this relationship.
First, the mushroom colonizes the root tissues, which will improve the moisture and nutrient absorption capabilities of the tree. In exchange, the photosynthesis of the tree will give the fungus carbohydrates.
Morels do this with pine trees. They work together with the roots so that they have a mutually beneficial relationship.
Where else do morels grow?
Morels like to grow on the very edges of woody areas. They also like dead or dying trees and will surround the base of these trees.
They also grow in recently disturbed areas, whether that means a forest fire or a trail. They don’t grow well in soggy soil but enjoy small streams and creeks because of the splashes of water.
It is not fully understood why they like forest disturbances, wildfires, or dead trees.
How many kinds of morels are there?
Until the 21st century, it was thought that there were over 80 species of morels. But molecular tools became more available to scientists, upon which they realized many of the supposed morels were actually imposters.
There are many “unresolved classifications” of morels, so the true number is unknown.
How can I identify a morel?
You should always go with an experienced guide when you identify mushrooms. Mycology societies throughout the country offer guided identification tours, according to the North American Mushroom Association.
Are there morel look-alikes?
There are morel look-alikes that can be dangerous. These are called false morels.
They have yellow or reddish-brown caps that hang to the side. They also have more of a brain texture than a pitting.
A surefire way to tell is that a true morel will be hollow on the inside, while false morels are not.
Are morels edible?
Morels are edible but should only be eaten when cooked (recipes to come!). Eating them raw can upset your stomach.
100 grams of morels provide 94% of your daily value of iron, while only being 31 calories.
How should I cook morels?
Morels are highly delicate so you have to be careful when you’re handling them. You also need to clean them extremely well because they’re hollow so it’s easy for dirt and germs to get inside them.
Only clean them right before use or else they will get mushy. To clean morels, shake them, move them around in cold water, and dry them.
They can be cut in quarters or halves, while small ones can stay whole. They taste best when they are lightly salted and quickly sauteed in butter.
They are also great grilled. You can put them on top of pizza or make risotto.
What do morels taste like?
Even people who don’t typically like mushrooms tend to like morels. They taste woodsy, nutty, and earthy.
Morels with darker colors are earthier, nuttier, and smokier.
What is the history of humans using morels?
The Native American Ethnobotany Database suggests that the Native American Crow tribe used Morels as soap.
Now, morels are eaten by the common foraging enthusiast but can also be found in extremely high-end restaurants.
What are some common names for morels?
Morels have many common names, local to certain regions. They are known as miracles in some areas based on a story that a mountain family survived starvation by eating morels.
In Kentucky they are known as hickory chickens. In West Virginia you will hear them referred to as muggles, muggins, or molly moochers.
In Appalachia, they are known as haystacks or snakeheads.
It is thought that the scientific name, Morchella, came from the German word morchel. Morchel is close to the word for carrots and beets, and created the name for morels because they are similar in shape.
What should I do if I find a morel under a pine tree?
The first thing you should do is look for more morels. They tend to grow near each other, roughly within 20 feet of each other.
The best way to harvest morels is to cut them at the base, but you can also use your fingers to snap them.
If you don’t wish to harvest them, simply enjoy their beauty. Sit beneath the tree and soak up nature’s ability to create such marvelous trees and mushrooms.