3 Spring Mushrooms to Forage in Iowa

By Jessica Graham

When spring rolls around and temperatures start increasing, Iowa foragers become excited knowing that soon spring mushrooms will be popping up in our Iowa timbers. Here are a few you may expect to see:

One of the first mushrooms to begin growing in Iowa are morel mushrooms. If you have spent much time in Iowa, you for sure have heard conversations in the spring revolving around mushroom hunting or finding morels. Morels are by far the most popular spring mushrooms found in Iowa and are often considered the highest standard for comparison when it comes to the taste of mushrooms found in the Midwest. The first little gray ones appear when soil temperatures warm up around 50 degrees. This usually occurs in late April when the daily temperatures are approaching 70 degrees during the day and lows stay above 40 at night. The somewhat larger golden yellow morels continue to pop-up and grow through the month of May. Morels grow in rich and sandy soil and dislike compacted clay. Often these are found growing in Iowa timbers near dead or dying elm trees and on south facing slopes. Because they are small and have a mottled appearance, they blend in well with the ground and are hard to find.

Pheasant Backs
If you are unable to find morel mushrooms do not worry, there are other fungi still growing through-out the spring in Iowa. Pheasant back (often referred to as Dryad Saddle) also begin growing in Iowa in April. Unlike morels, these will grow and re-grow through the fall. Pheasant back mushrooms are much easier to find than morels, and they often grow on trees, logs and stumps. In comparison, the mushrooms are far prettier than morels, but when it comes to taste, other mushrooms are preferred. Pheasant back mushrooms are edible, but taste best when the mushrooms are less than 2.5 inches in diameter. As they grow, they become woody and tough. Some people will dehydrate larger mushrooms and grind the mushrooms into a powder to be used as a basis for a mushroom broth. One unique feature about the porous underside of the pheasant back mushroom is the distinct smell, which is very similar to the smell of a watermelon rind.

Oyster Mushrooms
Oyster are one of the many edible fungi found in Iowa and can be the most plentiful. If you have spent much time hiking through Iowa’s timbers in the spring, summer, or fall, I am sure you have seen clusters of oyster mushrooms growing on trees. They can vary in color from white, golden, and tan. Typically, they are found on living and dying trees, stumps and logs. They begin growing usually around April when air temperatures are warmer than 50 degrees and can grow in warm to hot temperatures as well especially after a rain. As with most mushrooms, they are most palatable when they are small to mid-sized. When cooked, these have a delicate flavor that will easily take on the flavor of the spices with which it is cooked. Oyster mushrooms are far more preferred than pheasant back mushrooms and arguably rank among Iowa’s best tasting spring fungi.

If you have not foraged for mushrooms in the spring, you are missing out on an abundant source of food provided by Iowa timbers. It is critical to correctly identify all mushrooms intended for consumption. If you are not sure about the identification, do not eat it. As with any mushroom, you should cook it prior to eating it and eat a small amount the first time you try a new species to see if you are sensitive to the specific fungi.

If you are interested in learning more about mushroom hunting and foraging for spring or fall mushrooms, join a mycology group. There are a few Iowa mycological groups that help visitors and members correctly identify mushrooms. They also have knowledgeable members that sometimes meet and go on a walk where growing mushrooms are identified and collected. Mushrooms hunting can be a fun activity for the whole family and later, you can enjoy eating your bounty together as well. Iowa spring mushrooms can add a delicious side dish to any meal.