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.
[Addendum 9-7-2015:] Here is a similar map that outlines the National Forest boundaries.
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.
|Aspen bolete |
|X||XXX||XX||With aspen above 7500'|
|Barrows' Bolete |
|Caesar's Amanita |
|O||XX||XX||6000'-9000', with pines|
|Cauliflower Mushroom |
(Sparassis americana var. arizonica)
|X||XX||XX||O||Above 7000', shady areas|
|Chicken of the Woods |
|Dryad's Saddle |
|XX||XX||X||X||Among earliest summer fruiters|
|Giant puffball |
|Giant Sawgill |
|O||XX||X||O||Early fruiting, only on dead pine|
|Hedgehog Mushroom |
|O||X||X||O||Cold tolerant; late season|
|Hen of the Woods|
|O||O||O||On hardwood; rare in AZ|
|Honey Mushroom |
|Inky Cap |
|O||O||X||XX||XX||XX||X||Hardy, long season|
|Lion's Mane |
|X||X||X||X||O||Cold tolerant; late season|
|Lobster Mushroom |
|O||XXX||XX||O||O||O||Above 6000', often found in profusion|
|Meadow/Horse mushrooms |
|X||XXX||XX||O||A. bitorquis in desert; many spp. in mtns.|
|Milk Caps |
|X||X||O||O||O||O||Mostly fire morels; occasional naturals w/ cottonwoods|
|Oyster Mushroom |
|O||O||XX||XXX||XXX||X||X||O||Mtns in summer, river bottoms in fall/winter|
|Rocky Mtn. King Bolete |
|X||XXX||XX||O||Above 7000', esp. w/ fir & spruce|
|Shaggy Mane |
|O||O||X||XXX||XXX||X||O||O||Disturbed ground above 7000'|
|Sheep polypore |
|Shrimp Russula |
|Slippery Jack |
|XX||XXX||XXX||X||Above 6000', esp. with pines|
|Stalked Puffball |
|O||O||O||X||XX||XX||XX||O||Found on disturbed sandy desert ground after rains|
|Velvet Foot |
|O||O||XX||XXX||XXX||XX||O||On aspens, above 7500'|
|Wood Ear |
|O||O||X||XXX||XXX||X||O||On wood; long season|