Botany

How Morel Mushrooms Grow



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Many people feel that morel mushrooms are among the choicest of edible mushrooms. A great number of people love to eat them, a smaller number know what they look like in the wild, and fewer still actually go out and collect them. The number of people who know how a morel grows, is far less, though this is important for the person eating them or hunting for them.

The mushroom starts from a tiny, nearly microscopic spoor. It is so small that it can easily be carried for miles on the wind. When it lands in a suitable place, it begins to grow. The spoors can lay dormant for some time, so this doesn't happen immediately, all the time. Morels begin to grow when the soil temperature is above 60 degrees F., and when the soil is moist.

The first thing to appear, and this covers much of the lifetime of the morel, are very fine roots that grow under the surface and which are smaller in diameter than a hair. Other roots soon join the first, all seeking sources of nourishment. This food comes mostly from decayed and decaying pine needles, fir needles, and leaves on the forest floor.

Growing just under the surface of the soil, the roots spread out. Eventually, they can cover an area of several square yards or meters, and may mesh with roots from other morels. In this way, they not only help break down the normal debris of the forest, they gain strength for the most important task of their lives: Reproduction.

After up to two to three years, the roots have stored sufficient energy to produce a fruiting head. These are the morel mushrooms people love and savor. The stem of the mushroom is hollow, holding up a head that tapers to a rounded point on the top. The mushrooms are variable in size, from barely the size of a thimble to larger than a fist, but all of them are rather sponge-like in appearance because of numerous holes. This is actually the part of the mushroom that produces the spoors.

All of this sounds simple, and it is. However, for it to occur and for the mushroom to grow, it requires certain conditions.

The soil can be poor and even rocky, but it must have enough nutrients from decayed vegetation to feed the roots, in order for them to have enough energy to produce the fruiting body. The soil needs to be damp, but not wet. The ground needs to be cool, but also needs to warm up during the day. This last part is why they are often found roughly following the snow line as the snow melts in the spring.

Finally, morels need protection from high winds, extremes in sunlight, and other weather related problems. Luckily, this last condition is often found near fallen trees, around the bases of saplings, and in shallow depressions. Fact is, morels are often common in areas that have suffered forest fires, within a couple years of the fire, and were there is a lot of branches and logs.

For example, about a decade ago, a wildfire raged near the boundary of Crater Lake National Park. The area was predominantly Ponderosa pine, Lodgepole pine, and Shasta fir. A few of these trees died, but most didn't. Still, there was a great deal of debris.

Three years later, the morels came up in profusion. People were collecting five to ten pounds of morels within just two or three hours, sometimes much less.

The growth cycle of morel mushrooms is interesting, though simple. Still, it requires certain conditions for optimum growth. When those conditions exist, the result can be an enormous amount of these delicious mushrooms.


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