Wildlife: A 'morel' dilemma in harvesting wild mushrooms

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My wife has been smiling almost continuously since April 25. That was the day she found the first morel of the season. She loves hunting, finding, picking and eating morel mushrooms.

"Think we should check for morels, yet?" she asks every year on the first nice day after her birthday in early April. Finding morels on her birthday would be the ultimate gift.

Over the last 25 years, we've found that predicting a morel crop is impossible. Some years we collect dozens, and other years there are none.

As we scoured the ground beneath dead elm and apple trees on April 25, I followed Linda's lead. "Found one." she yelled. "Two. Three. Four! It's going to be a good year," she beamed.

Over the next hour we visited a half dozen spots where we've found morels in the past. Each was fruitful, and Linda nearly filled her mesh morel bag. Linda was in morel heaven, a state I call "morel-apalooza."

It is only fitting that Linda is a far better morel hunter than I. Her eyes are sharper, and I think she has perfected a search image for the fleshy cream-colored mushrooms that resemble convoluted brain tissue. When our daughters were little girls, they found even more than Linda. I think it was because their eyes were closer to the ground.

I've always wondered how fast morels grow. They seem to pop up over night, but that seems unlikely. So when Linda found two small patches of inch-high morels, I suggested we watch them for a few days to see how fast they grow. Linda wanted to pick them, so she faced a real "morel" dilemma.

Ultimately, Linda agreed to wait. When we returned 24 hours later, each morel had grown about 1 inch. The next day they had grown another inch. Satisfied that morels grow rapidly, but over several days, we picked the experimental mushrooms and enjoyed a morel omelet the next morning.

By May 6, Linda had collected more than 80 morels -- our best harvest ever, and she's hoping the woods will provide at least a few more.


Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.


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