Where and when do you look for mushrooms in Arizona?

Arizona, like California, benefits from large variations in terrain elevation that allow one to explore very different biomes with only a short drive.  Those whose perception of the state has been shaped by Hollywood movies filmed in Old Tucson or Monument Valley are often surprised to discover that large parts of the northern and eastern portions of the state are cool, relatively wet, and heavily forested.

The low-lying desert parts of Arizona provide very little haven for mushrooms. Certain edibles such as morels and torqs can sometimes be found in wet riparian habitats in the spring and fall after rains, but these are typically serendipitous discoveries and not a target of deliberate foraging. Especially in the warmer months, don’t waste your time below 6,000 feet or so of elevation.

Successful fungal collecting in Arizona takes place almost entirely in the higher mountainous areas of the state, in the wet summer monsoon months of July, August, and September. In late April and early May after a wet winter, there may also be some worthwhile morel hunting in the mountains.

From 6,000 to 7,500 feet is where Ponderosa pines predominate, with their complement of Barrows’ boletes, slippery jacks, puffballs, Caesar’s amanitas, and the occasional Agaricus or Russula.

Around 7,000-7,500 feet, aspen and Douglas firs start to be seen, with more of the Agaricus and Russula, oyster mushrooms, lobster mushrooms, aspen boletes, shaggy manes, occasional king boletes, and a wider variety of other mycorrhizal fungi.

By 9,000 feet or so, the firs and spruces dominate the mixed conifer forest. At these higher elevations, the monsoon rainfall tends to be at its heaviest. There is a cornucopia of fungi including king boletes, chanterelles, cauliflower mushrooms, lion’s mane, and hedgehogs, among others. In wet years, these zones can provide some of the best summer foraging in the country.

The map below shows the long-term average rainfall in Arizona during the monsoon months of July through September. The dark blue areas, where the season may produce upwards of twenty inches of rain, are mostly associated with high mountains. However, some of the heavy rains shown on this map fall on lower lying grasslands and scrubland that are not suitable mushroom habitat, notably in the area south of Tucson.

Greer and the Mt. Baldy area, as well as the Mogollon Rim, are the premier sites for foraging in the state.  Their flat, expansive, heavily forested terrain is more suitable for foraging than some of the smaller, steeper, more rugged mountain ranges mentioned below.  But all of these sites of heavy mountain rains will produce plenty of interesting fungi in a wet summer for those who make the effort to get there.

summer monsoon rains in arizona

[Addendum 9-7-2015:] Here is a similar map that outlines the National Forest boundaries.

Arizona Mushroom Map

The chart below will give you a general idea of the seasons in which you can expect to find various types of edible mushrooms.  O=occasional/rare/out of season. X=in season, not common. XX=in season, common. XXX=Found profusely in season.

NAMEAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecNOTES
Aspen bolete
(Leccinum insigne)
XXXXXXWith aspen above 7500'
Barrows' Bolete
(Boletus barrowsii)
XXXXX6500-9000' w/pines
Blusher
(Amanita novinupta)
XXXXOccasionally profuse
Caesar's Amanita
(Amanita "cochiseana")
OXXXX6000'-9000', with pines
Cauliflower Mushroom
(Sparassis americana var. arizonica)
XXXXXAbove 8000'
Chanterelle
(Cantharellus cibarius)
XXXXXOAbove 7000', shady areas
Chicken of the Woods
(Laetiporus sulphureus)
XXX
Dryad's Saddle
(Polyporus squamosus)
XXXXXXAmong earliest summer fruiters
Giant puffball
(Calvatia spp.)
XXX
Giant Sawgill
(Neolentinus ponderosus)
OXXXOEarly fruiting, only on dead pine
Hawk-Wing
(Sarcodon imbricatus)
XXXXXXXXXAbove 7000'
Hedgehog Mushroom
(Hydnum spp.)
OXXOCold tolerant; late season
Hen of the Woods
(Grifola frondosa)
OOOOn hardwood; rare in AZ
Honey Mushroom
(Armillaria mellea)
XXXXXXXXOO
Inky Cap
(Coprinopsis atramentaria)
OOXXXXXXXXHardy, long season
Lion's Mane
(Hericium spp.)
XXXXOCold tolerant; late season
Lobster Mushroom
(Hypomyces lactifluorum)
OXXXXXOOOAbove 6000', often found in profusion
Meadow/Horse mushrooms
(Agaricus spp.)
XXXXXXOA. bitorquis in desert; many spp. in mtns.
Milk Caps
(Lactarius spp.)
XXXXXXAbove 7000'
Morel
(Morchella spp.)
XXOOOOMostly fire morels; occasional naturals w/ cottonwoods
Oyster Mushroom
(Pleurotus spp.)
OOXXXXXXXXXXOMtns in summer, river bottoms in fall/winter
Puffball
(Lycoperdon spp.)
XXXXXXXXX
Rocky Mtn. King Bolete
(Boletus rubriceps)
XXXXXXOAbove 7000', esp. w/ fir & spruce
Shaggy Mane
(Coprinus comatus)
OOXXXXXXXXOODisturbed ground above 7000'
Sheep polypore
(Albatrellus ovinus)
XXXXX
Shrimp Russula
(Russula xerampelina)
XXXXAbove 7500'
Slippery Jack
(Suillus spp.)
XXXXXXXXXAbove 6000', esp. with pines
Stalked Puffball
(Podaxis pistillaris)
OOOXXXXXXXOFound on disturbed sandy desert ground after rains
Velvet Foot
(Flammulina spp.)
OOXXXXXXXXXXOOn aspens, above 7500'
Wood Ear
(Auricularia auricula)
OOXXXXXXXXOOn wood; long season

About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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5 Responses to Where and when do you look for mushrooms in Arizona?

  1. kawski says:

    i am new to the group — don’t whether this is the right place:
    just back to PHX from the white mtns (near MtBaldy). still hardly any mushrooms out. took a few hours to find about 30 (young) king bolete (and about a dozen aspen bolete). will try again in 10 days.

    matt

  2. Pingback: The morels are here, along with some other spring edibles | Arizona Mushroom Forum

  3. D says:

    Great list, is there a printer-friendly version of mushroom seasonal availability on the site? In advance, thanks.

    • Uncle Don B Fireland Fanning says:

      I scrolled to access both sides of the wide table than I pasted it into a spreadsheet and I’m editing it for printing from there.

  4. D says:

    Follow-up question: For example, this month, July 2015, where can one find in Metropolitan Phoenix supermarkets, the mushrooms that are in season/common–I have not seen most of the mushrooms mentioned.

    Also, are cremini and white mushrooms somewhere on the list–didn’t see/maybe they are brought in–when are they in season?

    Thanks again.

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