The Science of Morel Mushrooms

The Great Morel is about to expose the science of morels by sharing in-depth knowledge about our beloved morel mushroom. Mycology experts and morel enthusiasts have brought the morel mushroom to a new understanding. From the self-taught mycologist, to the degree holding mycologist, the mycology experts and morel enthusiasts have brought the morel mushroom to a new level of understanding. Over the years they have bestowed it upon themselves to better understand this delicious and incredibly fascinating fungi. The Great Morel is going to take you down an educational path and share some of what they have learned and enlightened us with while exploring the science of morels.

This edible fungi known as the morel has many biological names in the mycology world, and a variety of slang names in the morel hunting world. It has often been a mystery as to why, where, and when it decides to fruit and grow in order to share its bounty with us. Many morel hunters simply consider it a blessing, one which Mother Nature brings us each spring, but it is in fact a complicated mushroom.

The morel has found its way to laboratory studies, culture studies, soil condition analysis and more with the sole purpose of mycology experts having a truer understanding. The science of mycology is big, and there are many who have put years and thousands of hours into studying the biological make-up of the morel mushroom alone. We as the veteran or novice morel hunter are about to take a deeper look into their discoveries and see what they’ve taught us.



Soil and Air Temperatures

The Great Morel is going to start this learning process by highlighting some of these studies – from the labs of Universities, to the labs of homes and garages, from the self-taught enthusiast to the morel hunter who just needs to know more…The Great Morel hopes to expose their findings and data. That said, we will start with soil and air temperature, that’s right – Soil and Air.

When most shroomers head to the woods in the spring they are in it for the joy of the hunt and the rewards morels bring to the kitchen table. However, take Allison Plummer (1) from western Pennsylvania, who is a self-described former tech-nerd turned mushroom enthusiast, who then subsequently decided to opt outside permanently and start a regenerative farm – Trail Head Croft. She wanted to understand temperatures more to establish the predictability of when the best time to look for morels in her region. In her words her purpose and methodology was…

In order to predict the morel season for my area, I’m looking to collect historic crowdsourced morel observations over the past 4-5 years and compare those observations dates to their corresponding accumulated temperature degree days per geographic area to help establish some understanding of the temperature range at which morels tend to emerge for my area of western PA. Since open sourced datasets are a bit hard to come by, I was hoping to use The Great Morel’s yearly observation maps as a source of truth, granted those observations can be fairly easily exported.

morel ground temperature

 

Allison compiled her data and research notes which you can read by clicking here. Her data analysis is truly interesting as is the research work she cites. The Great Morel happily contributed Morel Sighting data to her, and yet her other sources are even more outstanding and should be check out as well.

In Allison’s research paper she uncovered and cites a great source from The North American Mycology Association. A piece titled “Is It Time For Morels Yet?” which was written in 2014 by Dr. Jeanne D. Mihail (2) from the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Missouri. This really good research paper on ground and air temperatures is a must read.

Dr. Mihail’s conclusion is one most morels hunters will agree with and probably smile when they read it “…it is also clear that soil warming is not the whole story. Winter chilling, as well as spring soil warming, are both important in determining when we will first see early spring morels…”

Allison Plummer’s and Dr. Mihail’s temperature studies are interesting and take the passion of morels to new heights. The Great Morel has been fortunate enough over the years to have shroomers share their personal studies on their personal morel patches. It is always intriguing to read these types of studies which help give everyone a deeper sense of knowledge that many of us would not consider thinking about.

Soil temperatures are critical in the morel’s life. From beginning to end, Mother Nature plays a key role in the life of the great morel. Along with soil and air temperatures, you can add soil composition to the equation as well. When all three of these factors work in harmony in your mushroom patch, you then have the making for happy morels.

optimum ground temperature for morels

A soil temperature study is one that many could do ourselves in our own neck of the woods. For anyone who is inspired by soil temperature as it relates to morels and you’d like to do your own study, here are a couple good tips to kick start you in your scientific research. First get a good soil thermometer – don’t go cheap, but really no need to go high-end either. Second, find a known area or patch where you have found morels in the past, and finally keep good records of your findings. If you take on this little experiment – share your findings with The Great Morel and we’ll get it posted. Also, check out a couple of these excellent reference sites to help you out.

 

Soil Temperature Web References



Morel Cultures, Spores and a Petri Dish

The Great Morel is not going to attempt to explain the biological science of the morel – it is and can be very complex. There are other web sites that can offer that deep educational experience much better. So consider this a guide to some of those complexities involved with this science. There are a lot of people who take their passion in this area to extraordinary levels. The technology and advancement in understanding the biological make-up of the morel, along with this thing called the Internet have made a tremendous amount of knowledge easily shared.

Understanding a spore, a culture, a strain, a petri dish, micro-structures, lab technologies, along with terms like phenotypic, morel sclerotia and mycelium all may sound a bit foreign to most morel hunters. Yet these and others are fundamental terms understood by those involved with the biologic science of morels. Years of time spent in labs and the sharing of knowledge among scientists and mycologist have helped make huge strides in this area of study.

John Forsyth (3), founder of FungiFlora.com has a great blog post on “6 Mycologists You Should Know” where he lists and highlights prominent leaders in the science of mycology. While these most notable mycologist are important, so are the not-so-notables whose desire to understand our favorite great morel are just as important.

Take Matt Hall (4) founder of Midnight-Harvest.com – he has taken his passion for understanding the morel with the “science of farming mushrooms” concept. Matt goes on and explains…

This is where mushroom farming meets the laboratory in the process of mushroom farming. In the case of most mushrooms – a sterile media is preferred. Sterile of course is the word that most are unfamiliar and the complications of sterilization and techniques involved in keeping it sterile.

 

petri dish of morels

Photo courtesy of MidnightHarvest.com

Another great research page which was compiled and written by Gary Novak (5) is “Morel Mushroom Evolution and Biology”. Gary’s educational background is impressive, as are his studies on morels. His background in Mushroom Physiologist and as an Evolution Biologist makes his research work very interesting and The Great Morel strongly suggests taking the time to read and visit his site and his Morel Phenotype Photo Page. 

If your need for information on cultures and growing them is sincere, then get involved and reach out to those who know a little more than you. The references above would be a pretty good place to start and the list of Research and Science Links on The Great Morel’s site is a great place to gather information.



Cultivating and Growing

Through the advancements mentioned above, and truly understanding the biological science of the morel, it has others excited about the ability to reproduce what Mother Nature usually blesses us with. Growing kits and spawn kits have been out since The Great Morel’s conception in the late 90’s, so the concept is not new. However, the vast amount of knowledge shared by those who yearn for the days when the morel can and will be cultivated and grown – both in nature and in controlled environments have made huge strides.

growing morels

Courtesy howtogrowmorelmushrooms.com

There are many others like Matt Hall who have taken this learned science and applied it. Take Josh Osborn (6) from Eastern Iowa, who is a co-founder of howtogrowmorelmushrooms.com and whose personal passion for hunting morel mushrooms has taken a more serious path – understanding how to grow morels successfully. Josh’s approach is very similar to others – a desire to first understand nature and then to replicate her – through trial and error, testing, research and lots of education. It is people like Matt and Josh who have invested hours and hours of research in the genetic and biochemical properties of the morel with a common goal – to reproduce and replicate the morel’s growth cycle.

 

 

Matt, from Midnight-Harvest.com also believes there will be some who may be a bit surprised what is in the near future and he goes on to add,

“…we’re about to wow some people in the idea of indoor morel farming and understanding this fungi better may lead to other related fungi being understood better.”

You can read more on Matt’s blog post – Morel Mushrooms – soon a year round commodity – where he compiles his thoughts on where the science and industry is headed.

 

Imagine heading out into your backyard to cultivate your “morel garden” much like your vegetable garden. Imagine massive commercial facilities reproducing morels and people enjoying them year-round. It truly is a possibility and in the not-so-distant future it could be a reality.

 



In Conclusion

The morel mushroom for most will remain a mystery. It is a mushroom we venture to the woods to find in the spring. Often times as The Great Morel likes to say, it is the unexplainable excitement of heading to the woods in seek of the ever-elusive great morel, and for most that is perfectly okay. Although for others, the thirst for understanding and gaining more knowledge will continue, and it will be through their thirst for knowledge that will make us all a bit wiser, a bit smarter and hopefully help us all find more morels.

The interesting question many morel hunters may ponder is this…what does all of this advancement in science mean for the novice or morel hunting enthusiast? The answer for most may be somewhat easy – we will still get super excited for spring to come and bless us with the ever-elusive great morel mushroom.

 

Happy and successful hunting!

 


Footnotes-Citations:

1) Allison Plummer, tech-nerd turned mushroom enthusiast, Western Pennsylvania
2) Jeanne D. Mihail from the Division of Plant Science at the University of Missouri
3) John Forsyth – founder of FungiFlora.com
4) Matt Hall founder of Midnight-Harvest.com
5) Gary Novak – Mushroom Physiologist and Evolution Biologist
6) Josh Osborn – Co-Founder of howtogrowmorelmushrooms.com


 


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