The morel or Morchella mushroom has never been officially documented in Florida — until now. Pam Anderson and Steve Cutshaw, both employed at Torreya State Park, found the lone specimen when conducting a plant census at Rocky Comfort Farms in Quincy.
“It’s a very rare find for our area,” said Cutshaw, the park manager. “Morels have a very short window of time to grow, so they’re very hard to find.”
Debby Parramore, Rocky Comfort Farms’ director, invited the rangers to conduct their plant census when she decided to open a new trail through a part of her property where she wants to preserve the native condition.
“In the northern climates, they grow a little more abundantly — but still in limited numbers,” said Cutshaw.
According to Anderson, Northern Florida’s ecological conditions are highly suitable for the morel’s growth, making the mushroom’s official debut in Florida remarkable on account of its inexplicable absence of documentation before now.
“We’ve always thought they were here,” said Anderson. “The habitat is perfect.”
Anderson said the mushrooms tend to come up around the time dogwood trees are blooming. She said morels often prefer alluvial soil — loose sedimentary soil that was once either submerged or deposited by a body of water.
“We have a lot of biodiversity,” said Cutshaw. “Our whole area can offer some amazing finds.”
The mushroom was removed from the ground and sent to Dr. Matt Smith, curator of the mycology herbarium at University of Florida, for a more thorough examination.
“He requested that I collect it and dry it out,” said Anderson. “He was very excited.”
According to Anderson, farmers have been trying to commercially raise morel mushrooms for more than a hundred years. So far, none of these attempts have succeeded. This has helped develop the search for morels into a type of wide-spread recreational hobby.
“People hunt these like crazy,” said Anderson. “The word got around. I had people calling me from Indiana and Colorado.”
“They are the most delicious culinary mushroom you can ever put your mouth on,” said Anderson.
Parramore and the rangers said they would be watching the area next year, intent on possibly finding more of the elusive mushrooms.