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Best time to hunt mushrooms March 27, 2008 - News-Leader
Now that it seems spring weather is finally arriving, it's time to start thinking about a favorite pastime of many Ozarkers: hunting for morel mushrooms.
Morel mushrooms begin appearing in late March or early April and continue to be found into May.
The types of morels most often seen in the Ozarks are the common morel, the black morel and the half-free morel. Of these, the most commonly found type is the common morel.
All morels are identified by their unique-looking pitted caps which resemble a sponge. Besides being a great addition to the dinner table, looking for these tasty outdoor treats is a great reason to get outdoors. If you're looking for a cure to cabin fever or a way to get the family outside, a morel mushroom hunt may be the solution.
Morels, like all mushrooms, are the reproductive structures of a fungus. These fungi are not plants (they lack roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, etc.). Neither are they animals. They are fungi, which are unique organisms unto themselves.
In the case of morels, the mushrooms sprout from a net of microscopic underground fibers called hyphae, which is the equivalent of the "body" of the fungus organism.
The mycelium grows in the materials it feeds off of - soil, wood, or decaying matter. This feeding process doesn't occur in the manner it does in most vertebrates and invertebrates. These fungi metabolize carbon-rich compounds manufactured by plants and other organisms. Enzymes break these compounds into molecules, which are absorbed through the fungus' cell wall. This fungal feeding process provides valuable "clean-up" assistance in nature by helping to decompose rotting logs and other dead vegetative matter found in forests.
Bringing this process back to morels; the morel mushrooms which sprout from these fibers carry the spores necessary for the fungus to reproduce. They're the equivalent of fruits on a fruit tree.
Some have described mushrooms as one of the "largest organisms on Earth." A good answer to this claim is - sort of.
Morel mushrooms have an existence that spans a few days to a few weeks, but the underground mycelium may continue to live and grow for years. It's thought some mushrooms have mycelium encompassing hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of acres. So, while their overall body mass may not make them the Earth's largest organism, the area some of them cover definitely qualifies them to be one of the world's broadest organisms.
But that's enough science. Most people don't care how they grow; they want to know where they grow.
Morels are found in various locations, but moist woodlands, south-facing slopes and river bottoms are good places to begin looking. Mayapple plants can serve as indicators of morel areas, but there are other signs, too. Experienced morel hunters can provide facts about how to find morels, but don't expect them to reveal their favorite sites: Morel hunters are as secretive about choice mushroom locations as anglers are about favorite fishing spots.
A good thing to take on morel hunts, particularly if you're new to the activity, is a mushroom identification book. False morels, which can be harmful to eat, have several characteristics which distinguish them from true morels. However, if you've never seen either type, it may be hard to tell the difference. Take along a bird book and a wildflower book, too. Some of the earliest spring wildflowers are beginning to appear in woodland areas and now is also a good time to spot a number of bird species in bright spring courtship colors.
If you've never eaten morels before, make your first morel meal a small one. Sometimes, even true morels can make people ill. It's wise to first find out if morels agree with your system. If they do, it's time to chow down.
It's also important to remember April 12-13 is Missouri's youth spring turkey season and April 21-May 11 is the state's regular spring turkey season.
The shooting hours of the youth season are a half-hour before sunrise to sunset and the shooting hours of the regular season are a half-hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. Any mushroom hunting trips you plan should probably be steered clear of those dates and times or to areas where no hunting is taking place.
A helpful identification guide is the Missouri Department of Conservation's "Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms" booklet.
This free publication is available at most Department of Conservation offices, including the Southwest Regional Office in Springfield and at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center.
In addition to giving tips about finding morels, the booklet also gives tips on how to prepare them. Morel mushroom information can also be found at www.missouriconservation.org
I didn't want to make a whole new thread, but I thought I'd let everyone know that morel season is still going strong in Illinois. It may continue for another week or two. I came across some yellow morel pins and a few mature ones. I did find a half-free morel, but it was dried up - their time here has come to a close. Morels aren't very common here in the Quad Cities area, but I was happy to find more than 30 on the college campus last week!