Tips for Hunting Wild Mushrooms

Expert insight into when, where and how to find common mushrooms in Iowa

May 3, 2024, 2:14 pm | Chelsea Harbach

AMES, Iowa – In Iowa, mushroom hunting is quite common. However, knowing the peak time to hunt for a particular mushroom can be challenging.

Chelsea Harbach, a plant disease diagnostician in the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, shares helpful guidelines when hunting for common mushrooms.

Morel in the ground, by Cris Ritchie/stock.adobe.comThree common types of mushrooms are regularly sought out. While using the mushroom foraging calendar key, Iowans can find peak times to hunt for common, white, black or half-free morels in the Spring; Chicken of the Woods in late summer; and oysters May through September.

When hunting for mushrooms, you can determine whether the mushroom is edible or inedible by asking:

  • Does the mushroom have a stem or cap?
  • Does the mushroom have gills or pores?
  • Where is the mushroom growing?
  • How is the mushroom growing? Out of the soil or out of a tree?
  • What is the time of year?
  • Does the mushroom have spore prints?
  • How does the mushroom smell?

A dangerous mushroom found in Iowa belongs to the Verpa species. These mushrooms look like morel mushrooms. However, these mushrooms have a wrinkly cap and similar stem, but when viewed closer, differences appear. The Verpa species will have a cottony pith in the middle of their stem, whereas morel stems are always hollow.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” said Harbach. “If you have any doubt about the identification or safety of the mushroom that you pick for consumption, it is not worth it.”

Mushrooms in Iowa enjoy rain without excessive heat. When searching, also avoid aged mushrooms. If a mushroom is of an older age, then you are more likely to find insects and decay. If the fungal tissue is degrading, this can make you ill. A common mushroom in Iowa is the dryad saddle, which is best found in its younger stages when it has a more fleshy outside. As this mushroom grows and gets older, it becomes woodier.

Since mushroom hunting is very popular in Iowa, Harbach holds a Wild Mushroom Certification course each spring. The dates for next year will be announced in January of 2025.

Additional Publications: A safe mushroom foraging guide that provides information on mushrooms found throughout Iowa is available.

Photo Credit: Morel in the ground, by Cris Ritchie/

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