The next time you’re driving down the road and see a timbered area look from the top of the tree canopy to about half-way to the ground. Generally, those trees that are missing their bark and whose bare wood is a whitish grey in color are dead elms. You should always keep in mind that dead elm trees which are missing most or all their bark are already past their mushroom-producing days.
The dead elms one needs to find are those that have passed away in the past couple of years. You now must get into the woods and find the dead elms that are just beginning to lose their bark. The bark usually falls away from the upper limbs first. In fact, some of the smaller upper branches and twigs may already have fallen. Also, as other trees begin to bud out in spring, dead elms do not. So another helpful clue is the absence of buds or leaves on the limbs.
Within a year or two of dying, white speckles will appear on the bark of dead elm trees. Such a tree is the perfect candidate for becoming a mushroomer’s delight! If there are not any mushrooms near its base, you are probably there just too early in the season.
Just what exactly is the relationship between dead elms and morels? Even the experts cannot agree. One must keep in mind that the spores of morels are everywhere. Many experts believe that as the elm starts to die, the sap runs from the tree back into the root structure, disperses from there into the ground and acts as some kind of catalyst or super fertilizer to begin the morel’s growth cycle. Also remember that from the time the spore starts to grow, it will take two seasons before mushrooms actually appear. So, actually, the growth cycle of the morel begins even before the tree is completely dead.
If all that is not complicated enough, let’s discuss where the morels accompanying a dead elm tree are most apt to be located. If it is early in the season, they will be on the south edge of the timber or on the south facing slope near the top of a hill because he sun warms these areas first. As the season progresses, the morels begin appearing further into the woods, further down the south side of the hills, and near the top of the north facing slope. At last, near the end of the season, they will appear at the north edge of the woods and in the bottomland.