April Showers and warm weather bring up the mushrooms and this sends many people into the woods to hunt for them. Most everyone agrees that they are fun to hunt and great to eat but what is really known about this group of fungi?
Mushrooms grow from a mass of tiny threads called mycelium. These threads come together to form the mushroom body which is nothing more than a reproductive structure containing the spores that will form next year’s mushrooms.
Mushrooms are neither male nor female but reproduce asexually. The bodies of those that aren’t found and picked simply turn to dust or spore. You can see this in the fall if you kick a mature puffball and a mass of what appears to be dust flies out.
A spore is not a seed as seeds are formed sexually with a male and female cell being involved. A spore is an asexual structure produced by the billions. If every morel mushroom spore survived we would walk on mushroom as we moved about.
If a spore lands in the right place, receives the proper nutrients and moisture and has sufficient warmth to grow the spore will begin to grow into these tiny threads. The correct nutrition is normally leaf litter and decaying trees, stumps and limbs. Some trees are better than others with the American elm being at the top of the list for mushroom production.
Certain spots are much better than others for producing the morel mushrooms but they can be found along fence rows, under pine groves, in old cemeteries and even in yards. They cannot be there one day and be there the next. It normally takes good rainfall and a moist ground along with the proper warmth.
Early in the season hunt the south facing slopes as these warm up the fastest due to the angle of the sun. Once they begin to show up it isn’t long before they can be found about anywhere.
Mushrooms have no caloric value so the only calories you get from eating them are the calories that come from the breading and the butter or oils that you fry them in. Many people say that the deer eat them and this has led to the reduction of mushrooms found. I cannot confirm or deny this but can tell you that very few animals eat something that doesn’t have caloric value for them. The only reason they would eat them would have to be that they simply like the taste.
In earlier times mushroom hunters used orange sacks or burlap sacks to carry their mushrooms in. These sacks would allow for the spores to fall out and help in propagating the mushrooms. Today most hunters use plastic sacks which hold the spores inside.
There is lots of controversy and lots of stories about mushrooms. Just get out this spring and enjoy the hunt and stay safe!