Mushroom Hunting: Roots

By Tom Nauman

An internet reader asks, "I here other hunters say if you cut or pinch a mushroom off when you are picking it instead of just pulling it out of the ground, another one will grow in the same spot the next year. Is this true?"

Good question, the answer is no, pulling the mushroom out of the ground will not have any effect on what happens at that spot next year. The hypha (roots) of the mushroom that connects the mushroom to the mycelium (the basic organism that produces morels) will freeze over winter and not be present next year anyway. The mycelium will produce new hypha next year to produce new mushrooms.

Had you asked about what happens this year, the answer would be very different. The hypha grows from the mycelium much the same as a branch of a fruit tree grows from the trunk. It will produce morels along its path in the same way that the branch of the tree produces fruit along its length. Whether you can see them yet or not, the hypha that connects the mushroom you're ready to pick to the host organism mycelium also connects other mushrooms to the same mycelium. If you destroy the hypha of the mushroom you're picking, you're eliminating the means the other mushrooms have of getting nutrients from the mycelium.

It would be the same as breaking the branch of an apple tree to pick just one apple. If you leave the branch intact, other apples will still grow further out on the branch. But if you've broken the branch, it is impossible for more apples to grow along its length. The only difference is that in the case of the fruit tree, you are eliminating any chance of fruit growing on the branch next year too.

So, while pulling out the roots won't have any effect on what happens next year, it will definitely have an adverse effect on what you might find later this season.

Here's part of an article I wrote several years ago:

One reason some hunters dig up the roots is to destroy any evidence that there were once mushrooms there. And, that if you leave just the stumps for another hunter to find, he or she will beat you to the spot next year. Do you really think that an experienced hunter won't notice the disturbed ground in an area where there should be mushrooms? If you're that worried about it, the best way I know of to disguise the area is to cut the mushroom and then cover the stump with leaves or dead grass.

Another reason to cut the mushroom above ground is too keep your bounty clean. Imagine going out to your garden to harvest fresh cabbage. When you get there don't just take the cabbage head, take the roots too, and all the dirt around them. Next, throw the cabbage (roots and dirt too) into a big bag. Then repeat the previous steps so that you end up with a big bag of cabbage, roots, and dirt. But that's okay because you'll separate the good from the bad back in the kitchen. I think you will have a hard time getting the cabbage clean. Morel mushrooms would be even harder.

One of the more famous mushroom tales is, "They weighed so much I could hardly carry them." Believe it or not, my arms have gotten tired carrying mushrooms. I can't waste any energy carrying the dirt too! Good Hunting!

Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960,