Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Flooding and morels

Someone pointed out an article from the St. Louis Post on morels and flooding. Here is the MDC news release that sparked the Post's article:

Floods might reduce morel crop in some areas

A poor crop this year could pay dividends in 2009.

JEFFERSON CITY-As if the immediate damage from flooding were not enough, recent wet weather could reduce the number of morels Missourians find this spring. Those who are inclined to look for a silver lining will cheerfully note that a poor morel crop this year probably would boost next year’s production.

Resource Scientist Bruce Moltzan is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s resident mushroom expert. He said morels are the fruiting bodies of a larger plant, just as apples are the fruiting structures of an apple tree.

Morel fungi emerge each spring from wintering bodies known as sclerotia. When warm, moist weather arrives, sclerotia invest their stored nutrients in two ways. One is to produce root-like structures to draw water and nutrients from the soil and decaying plant tissue. The other is to grow “primordia,” the familiar, sponge-like cone that is the holy grail of mushroom fanatics.

Moltzan said morels need the right combination of nutrients, humidity, carbon dioxide and temperature to form mushrooms.

“Morel sclerotia are amazing survival structures,” he said, “so flooding should not kill them. However, if during the formation time sclerotia are sitting in flooded areas, it is likely they won’t form primordia this year, and mushrooms will be more abundant next year.”

All this applies only to flooded areas. Morel sclerotia growing on higher ground can still produce normal crops of mushrooms under good conditions.

One way to identify good morel hunting spots is related to how morels make their living. Moltzan said morels have a mutually beneficial relationship with trees. The roots of trees intertwine with those of morels, known as mycorrhizae. The fungi get sugars from the trees’ roots, and the trees benefit from an effective expansion of their root systems, increasing their ability to draw water and nutrients from the soil. Some evidence suggests that morel mycorrhizae also provide protection from other organisms that damage tree roots.

Mushroom hunters have long known that the death of a tree can trigger a flush of morel fruiting. Moltzan said this is because morels’ underground, vegetative parts sense a decrease in their sugar lifeline and react by sending up spore-producing fruits to perpetuate the species when food runs out.

“That is why mushroom hunters who notice a dead slippery elm one year may find a bonanza of morels the next spring,” he said.

That provides insight into where morels will grow, but Moltzan said the question of when they will emerge is a deep mystery.

“Predicting the timing of morels is very complicated,” he said. “To quote a prominent mycologist, ‘The thrill of the hunt is what makes morelling so exciting ... and often so frustrating.’”

Moltzan said that all things being equal (which they seldom are), late April is a prime time for morel hunting.

“I start hitting the trails about the middle of April in mid-Missouri. Production continues for about two weeks. In general, this window is earlier in the south and later in the north. The key is getting out and looking.”

-Jim Low-


Jim has some good advice there. You definitely won't find anything unless you get out there and start looking.

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