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Ruch man's foot-long morel mushroom is the big draw at Aunty Pasta's restaurant
RUCH, OR - Larry Belau's big morel is the talk of Ruch this week.
Mushroom hunters and ordinary folks alike have been coming to Aunty Pasta's restaurant just to see a fungus that's 12 inches tall, 14 inches around and weighs in at just under a pound.
"Mushroom hunting's a serious thing out here," said Catherine Johnson, who owns the restaurant on Upper Applegate Road.
"Some people take pictures," Johnson said. "Other people just oogle it. We've had some people see it and bring others in so they could see it, too."
Belau found the giant mushroom last weekend and brought it to the restaurant to weigh it on a certified scale. He decided to put it in the restaurant's ice cream case to preserve it and give other people a chance to see it, too.
"It's been fun to watch people's jaws drop," said his wife, Becky.
Wildflowers were on Belau's mind when he set out on a walk in the woods. As he stepped across a small creek he saw a dense stand of morels poking their heads out of a patch of miner's lettuce.
"It was kind of a fluke. I just stumbled across them," said Belau, 56, who designs and builds houses.
"It blew my mind," he said, "Most of them were eight to 10 inches tall."
His lucky find produced enough tasty fungi to fill two grocery sacks, along with the largest single specimen that most people are likely to see.
Morels of that scale are rare, but not unheard of, said Gordon Larum of Medford, a member of the Mount Mazama Mycological Society.
"They would probably be more common if people didn't harvest them so ferociously," Larum said.
Larum said morels generally pop up in the area around Ruch as soon as late February and the season usually ends in April. Within that time frame, the fungi wait for the right combination of soil moisture, air temperature and humidity to send their fruiting bodies above the soil to sow the spores of future generations.
When everything comes together under the best possible conditions, a morel may grow for as long as six or seven days to reach maximum size, Larum said.
Belau thought the morel season had ended around Ruch because he was no longer finding them in places that have been productive in the past.
Apparently, this year's warm, dry winter and cool wet spring have prompted the fungi to shift to a different schedule.
"I think (the fruiting season) has been skewed," Larum said, "because of the drought, followed by rain and relatively cold weather."
Larum said morels are just beginning to show up around Howard Prairie Reservoir. "It may be a fairly good year for them up there."
Morels' unpredictability can make them difficult to find. Sites that produce for years can suddenly go dormant, and new patches may seem to appear spontaneously.
"They grow where they damn well please," Larum said.
Veteran hunters jealously guard the location of their favorite sites, and know others do the same. Becky Belau said she can tell how much morel-hunting experience people have by the questions they ask. "The wise ones don't ask "Where did you get it?"