Saturday, February 23, 2008

To Pluck or To Cut: The Myth of Overpicking

Over the years I have heard many people talk of mushroom hunters etiquette. A common issue is to cut or to pick the morels you find. Not a season goes by that I don't see countless pictures of morels plucked from the ground with their earthball in tact. These photos are often followed by suggestions, some polite others not so much, from well-intended hunters about how the person should cut the mushroom so as not to damage the roots for future years.

I have researched this and there is no scientific proof that plucking causes any more damage than cutting. However, I always cut mine. If you have ever put one mushroom with dirt on it in a bag of nice clean ones, you'll soon find yourself spending more time cleaning than eating. So I always make sure and trim away any parts of the morel that have dirt attached. So I choose to cut.

Regardless of which you choose, the real issue being debated is does our picking the mushrooms effectively serve as over harvesting and deprive mushroom growth for the future. The debate on this subject is pretty exhaustive. Next time you see a few mushroom hunters ask them and see how heated the arguments can get. I have seen numerous articles and websites talking about how hunters are overpicking and that they need to use mesh bags. It's interesting because the people who write these, often are the same people who market mesh bags. So, they stand to make a pretty penny from perpetuating this myth and spreading ignorance. The trust is within the first 24 hours from when a mushroom "pops" or fruits, it releases like a million spores that scatter to the four winds. There is no proof that using mesh bags is any better for the mushrooms than using a paper or plastic grocery bag. So, I save my 10-20 bucks for a mesh bag to buy gas.

Forget science for a moment, my own experience speaks to the contrary. I have hunted the same spots for over a decade. And at first I bought into the propaganda and used mesh bags, but as many soon learn, if you get a pound or two of morels in a mesh bag, they start to crumble. The mesh tears them up a bit. So I stopped using them. And you know what, my spots produced just like before. The mushrooms didn't seem to care whether I used mesh or plastic.

I started experimenting. In one spot I picked every mushroom I could possibly find, from the little ones only about 1/2 inch tall to the old decrepit ones that I would never eat (I scattered these in my yard). In other spots near it I left the little and the old ones and in other spots I left about 20-30% including at least one perfect mature yellow. I did this for three years in a row. And I could tell no difference between the patches. My picking the fruiting body of the mushrooms didn't seem to effect the mycelium that produced them year after year. In fact, the spot that I picked all of the mushroom actually produced more in the following years. It was only like 2-3 more a year, so not really a significant difference, but still contrary to the conventional wisdom. The only things that did effect my patches was the weather (i.e. air & soil temperature, precipitation, etc). But the patches were all effected the same; in dry years all would produce less, regardless of how I had picked them the year before.

Checkout MushroomExpert for a great rundown on the myths surrounding overpicking.

So, the next time someone tells you that you need to use a mesh bag to save the mushrooms, first ask yourself what is this person selling.

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