TIPPECANOE COUNTY — Few things compare to stumbling across a morel on your sunny afternoon walk on the trails or in the woods, but Nicolette Albright says there's a reason the little fungi have been difficult to spot over the last few years.
Albright, a graduate student at Purdue University studying botany and plant pathology, said she has spent the last several years studying these seasonal mushrooms, characterizing what can be found in Indiana.
Her collection began in 2012, although Albright said that year was one of the worst morel seasons she had seen, due to poor climate conditions.
"I'm from the Logansport area," she said. "I remember at a very young age going out with my dad looking for morels, and we would always leave with sacks filled from the woods."
One of the best seasons Albright has ever seen was in 2013, and that's what launched her research. But over the past few years, her searching has been rather lackluster.
According to Albright's findings, 10 species of morels, genus Morchella, can be found in Indiana. While trees such as elm, ash, poplar and apple can house the unique mushrooms around their understory, you'll only find some species west of the Rocky Mountains after a forest fire.
"They aren't your typical mushrooms you find in the store," she said. "Morels are more closely related to truffles, actually. Their life cycles are very different, and there is a lot still unresolved about it."
Its growth process is still a mystery, Albright said, as there is no luck to be had when replicating a morel's life cycle.