Hey all, it’s time to play Morel: Fact or Fiction!

Photo - Jinxie the Wonder Mongrel - Oakridge, OR

Photo – Jinxie the Wonder Mongrel – Oakridge, OR

Morel Season is just starting in the Chicago area, but being one of the more middling climates we Chicagoans get to spend a lot of time reading the Morel Forums. Most serious mushroom hunters and mycologists stay out of them after the first week, we just can’t stand more than a week of debunking “traditional knowledge” that has been passed on for the last 100 years and we give up.

This is a simple set of True or False questions to test your knowledge about the Morel Mushroom. While some of the answers will surprise you, science is science, and sometimes you’ve got to go against tradition. I look forward to the debunking of the debunking.

Morels Fruit in one night, “Popping Up” at the size that they’ll be.

True or False?

Morels pin like any other mushrooms, then begin to fruit and grow under the right conditions. They start small and grow for about two to three weeks. There are several time lapse videos that show quite well their growth. Folks who say things like, “if you’re quiet enough, on a dark night, you can hear ’em pop!” are full of more than mushrooms.

You must carry your morels in a mesh bag so they drop their spores, if you don’t “seed” your patch it’ll die out.

True or False?

Many folks carry mesh bags or baskets, and many mushrooms drop their spores after they’re cut and the gills dry slightly. But Morels are Ascomycetes and release their spores differently than most mushrooms. The release when they’re ready to release through asci, and especially in the case of young fruiting bodies, may not release at all.

Morels and are just the reproductive organ of the larger organism known as the mycelium. The mycelium may have been there for longer than your grandpappy’s been alive. To keep growing it just needs to continue exchanging nutrients for sugars with the root ball of the tree it’s partnered with. Morels can become saphrotic upon the death of the tree host, at that point the mycelium will quickly (over the next few years) use up all of the energy of the root ball, fruiting prolifically. That’s why you’re looking especially close under dead trees for that honey hole.

For the serious Morel hunter using handled paper bags or five gallon buckets protect your Morels from damage that they inflict on themselves grating against the mesh of the bag. One professional forager I know only uses buckets because he’s tramping through dense underbrush, another that hunts Morels 8 months a year uses a mesh bag. Let the arguing begin!

Morels grow wherever the spores land.

True or False?

There are over 19 species of Morels in the US, 14 of which have only been typed in the last five years or so. Different species of Morels have different mycorrhizal mutually symbiotic relationships with differing trees. Morels generally have distinct macroscopic properties that can be determined with careful examination if you take the time to use a key. Dropping the spores of a Morel that is associated with Cottonwood Trees at the base of a Fir Tree will do no good for the Fir, the Morel or anything else.

You need to look carefully everywhere for morels, they are sneaky bastards.

True or False?

Morels are sneaky bastards! Here’s Mushroom King Weipert finding them in a hole from a root ball. But that’s not all, pro hunters will tell you to move at a good clip, not wasting your time checking every tree. Look for the big “Flag” Morel, that one flag that signifies others are around. Find the flag and then slowly and carefully inspect all around it in a radius that grows each revolution. This is the time for careful consideration of every leaf under the tree, not every leaf in the forest.

Pulling your morels will kill your patch!

True or False

Alternatively cutting Morels will leave a butt to rot and kill your patch! You’ve got to pull so the mycelium breaks and “y’s” off making it stronger! Both methods are wrong! Errr, RIGHT! Pulling a mushroom does effect the mycelium, that’s right it yanks the tiny threads and rips them, and the theory that the mycelium “y’s” off and makes the network stronger has been shown as fact. Cutting you Morel, pinching it, and leaving a bit on the ground doesn’t effect the mycelium any more than not picking it at all, and might even be better than leaving a whole Morel to rot. If you go to 3.22 in the above video (time stamping isn’t working with this video for some reason) you’ll hear the host explaining one way or the other is the only way.

An ongoing study by the Oregon Mycological Society has shown that for Chanterelles at least pulling your mushrooms leads to higher yields, About 25% more mushrooms fruited from the beds that were yanked out, as opposed to the beds that were cut. I urge you to do your own real research, pull them babies and cut the butts in the field. Get back to me in 22 years and let me know how it’s turned out.

Use whatever method you’re most comfortable with, or what you’ve been taught. But remember to cut your butt stem so you don’t bring dirt into you bag, basket, bucket or whatever the hell you’re carry that 50 pounds of mushrooms out of the woods in.

Morels have no real nutritional value!

True or False?

morel nutrition factMorel Minerals ProteinMorel Carbs

Morels are actually a pretty healthy food. High in vitamin D, B complex, fiber, minerals, and relatively high in protein. You need to cook all mushrooms or you’ll get almost nothing out of them, the cells are made of “chitin” and not cellulose like most foods we eat. The chitin is strong and won’t release the nutrients without softening the walls by cooking. Since Morels contain a small amount of hydrazine it’s a good idea to cook that rocket fuel out of them anyway.

You know what, screw that nutritional information, both you and I know you’re going to throw them in a pound of butter. How ever you cook them you only get them for a few weeks a year, as long as you can buckle your belt when you’re done it’s all good!

You’ve got to soak your morels in salt water overnight, otherwise they’ll be too buggy?

True or False?

Folks do this to kill the bugs, but if you’re not slicing them you’re eating them bugs anyway, so give them a quick rinse if they’re a little dirty (which they wont be too dirty because you were careful and cut all the butt stems and any nasty parts off in the field, right?)

If you’re slicing them why bother soaking them, it robs them of flavor. Cut them and slap your knife down on the board as them little critters try to scamper away. You aim will get better the more time you miss and hit your grandmothers only heirloom table or cut you little ones fingers off – I guarantee!

Wet morels don’t bring as much money, no one wants a waterlogged piece of slimy trash that was once a Morel, and the fresh dry ones taste better, last longer and have more protein (you know, because the bugs are fresh!)

You can eat Morels in the field!

True or False?

You actually need to fully cook all wild mushrooms. Morels contain Hydrazine, a component in both rocket fuel and plastics manufacturing. It’s not good stuff, but fortunately cooks out quickly. You can do it, I’d bring an extra pair of panties.

You can eat False Morels, they’re great!

True or False?


Well, from what I hear they are pretty tasty. The problem is the toxin in Gyromitra spp. builds up in your body and you’ll never know when you’ll get enough to get you violently ill, or for that matter enough that you cough up your kidneys and liver. Gyromitras, False Morels sometimes called “Reds,” “Beefsteaks,” or “Snowdrift Mushrooms” all contain Gyromitrin or specifically, N-methyl-N-formylhydrazine. (There’s that damned rocket fuel again!)

You’ll find many folks ID’ing Gyromitra as edible, often stating that they’ve been eating them for generations and “I ain’t dead yet!” Well that’s just frigging dandy, and it’s quite possible that they’ll never suffer any ill effects from Gyromitra, but it does cause 2 – 4% of mushroom fatalities. If you see someone telling folks incomplete information regarding this mushroom it’s your duty to tell the whole story.

Tom Volk, Mycologist at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse says, “Gyromitrin is a hemolytic toxin (i.e. it destroys red blood cells) in humans, other primates, and dogs. It is toxic to the central nervous system and damages the liver and gastrointestinal tract. It may act by interfering with transaminases, particularly those having a pyridoxal phosphate cofactor. Vitamin B6 is used in the treatment. As in cyclopeptide poisoning, a relatively long latent period ensues (6 to 12 hours) between ingestion and symptoms. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, distention, weakness, lassitude, and headache; if the condition is severe, these may develop into jaundice, convulsions, coma, and death. Methemoglobinuria and very low blood sugar are found in laboratory tests.”

But for all you folks whose uncle also happens to be their father who have been eating them for 30 years, please don’t listen to science, continue to eat them – we could always use more data points.

Morels are the only safe mushroom to hunt!

True or False?

80 pound Maitake

80 pound Maitake

If you think this one is true you’re missing a whole lot of fine mushrooms. When I’m out hunting Morels I’m also looking for Ramps and Nettles, as well as Dryads Saddle (P. sasqumosus) and Chicken of the Woods (L. sulphureus) and other early fruiting mushrooms. There’s a group of mushrooms called the “Foolproof Four” and I usually add two more to them for the Foolproof Four plus Two!

Learn these five additional mushrooms and you’ll never be without. Sometimes it’s just easier looking for a ten pound Hen of the Woods, or the bright orange Chicken of the Woods than it is finding a couple of dozen 1/4 ounce morels.

One more thing, remember to turn GIS on when using your camera, and post your photos of your honey hole widely!

Whatever you’re doing, have fun, eat well, and teach each other.

If you’re in the Midwest don’t forget to check out our Guide to Midwest Morel Festivals!

Special thanks go to L. Sulphureus, Oregon based professional forager and artist for prompting this post by asking for Morel Myths on his facebook page

Morel: Fact or Fiction Game!

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