The thought of meaty, earthy morels gets even the most jaded mushroom hunter excited. Yet, morels can be as unpredictable as they are delicious. Conditions for morel growth need to be perfect, and they're picky about which trees they'll grow near. Different morel varieties, or morels in different regions, may prefer particular trees. Most morel trees are hardwood species, and they're frequently old, dead or dying--though this isn't always the case.
Morels are closely associated with elm trees. Elms grow in a vase-shape with more foliage on the slender upper branches. Find an elm tree that's just started to die and it can be very productive for gray and yellow morels, according to the website Northern Country Morels. Large chunks of fallen bark around the trunk base are usually a sign of a sick or dead tree, ideal for morel growth.
Apple trees often grow in a twisted, gnarly formation and rarely stretch higher than 20 feet. The distinct pinkish-white blossom appears in May, with ripe apples following in early fall. All types of morel mushrooms grow around the base of apple trees. Untended orchards filled with old apple trees make fertile morel spots, according to fungi expert David Fischer at the American Mushrooms website.
The ash tree is most associated with black morels, as well as occasional blooms of yellow morel, according to Northern Country Morels. Ash tree bark is gray with deeply marked diamond shapes. Morels will happily grow near large and healthy ash trees, unlike other tree types where the morel prefers decaying individuals.
Poplars grow tall, often to over 100 feet. Poplars attract morel mushroom growth in most locations, but in some regions they're especially productive. For example, in the Piedmont plateau region in the eastern United States, morels frequently grow near tulip poplars, according to the University of North Carolina. Live and thriving tulip poplars will often harbor nearby morels. Poplar bark is gray to brown and often ridged and knobbly.
Morels often grow in abundance in forest areas burned at some stage in the last three years, according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Researchers from the botany department of the University of Wisconsin Madison also noted that morels were particularly fond of growing on the sides of scars in the ground where trees has burned into the earth.