Mushroom Hunting: Do Morels Grow?

By Tom Nauman

I finally accomplished a task that had been a goal of mine for several years. And that was to document that morels do, in fact, grow. There are experienced morel hunters that believe morels spring up out of the ground in a matter of seconds or minutes and do not increase in size after that initial emergence from the soil. Their belief stems from being told that morels don't grow. Or, maybe they've even resisted the temptation to pick a morel and left it to grow and nothing happened. I also have left morels to grow and nothing happened. The first morel I photographed for this experiment had withered to almost nothing after five days and never did get any larger. Sometimes I have left them for up to seven days without noticing any growth. And then on the eighth day they have doubled in size!

There are knowledgeable mushroomers that would also argue that while morels increase in size, it is not true growth. And I shouldn't argue this point because I don't understand their belief. As I understand it, they believe the "growth" is caused by the mushroom absorbing water and therefore increasing in size. I do not agree. I believe that if you could dehydrate a morel that's an inch tall and then could somehow dehydrate the same morel when it was five inches tall you would have more mushroom in both size and weight. Dehydration removes all the moisture. If water only creates the illusion of "growth", how do you account for the increases?

Do they always grow? No. What causes them to grow? It's a combination of moisture, temperature, and someone with enough patience to not collect it for the dinner table.

You may not notice the mushroom in photo 1 at first glance. It's only about an inch and a half tall and is grey in color. It is right in the middle of the picture. In photo 2, after six days the mushroom has increased to about three and a half inches in height and its color is more of a yellow-grey. Photo 3 was taken by Larry Lonik, author of "The Curious Morel" twelve days after photo 1. Larry's camera had print film and the overcast day created a darker picture. In color, the mushroom appears to be a reddish brown which I don't believe it really was. If memory serves me correctly, the mushroom was a dark tan and approximately five inches tall. Photo 4 is the same mushroom seventeen days after photo 1. The mushroom had broken off about half way up the stem and was deteriorating. The ridges on the cap were almost black while the pits were greyish-tan. The mushroom measured six and a half inches tall.

I apologize for not getting the camera at the same angle and distance from the mushroom each time. This was my first experiment of this kind and may try it again next season with a few scientific controls.

I do have a witness though. Bud Mills of rural Henry hunts the same area. To keep him from picking my experiment, I left a lighter next to the mushroom and left word with the landowner to ask Bud to please not to pick a mushroom next to a lighter if he found it. When I arrived to take the second picture, I found the lighter and noticed it was purple. Gee, I thought I left a blue one. For the third photo, the lighter was green and starting to rust. I remembered making note that the color seemed different, but I didn't document exactly what the color was. It's either middle-age mind slip or I was too engrossed in the mushroom itself.

Well, for picture 4 there was no doubt. This time it was a white lighter with my name written in fingernail polish on the side!

Bud had left word that if I hadn't noticed it this time, the next find would have been a book of matches!

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.