The Year of the Giant Morel Mushroom
If nothing else, 2016 may very well go down as the year of the giant mushroom. And the state of Missouri seems to be the epicenter of freakishly large fungi. Conditions this year have been excellent for the tasty mushroom all over the Midwest, and many foragers are reporting good numbers of slightly larger-than-normal morels. (Photos courtesy of the mushrooms' finders)
But slightly larger-than-normal doesn't begin to describe a few finds this spring. Many morel aficionados are secretive about their mushroom spots, both where they are and how many have been found, so size records can be a bit sketchy. Luckily for those of us who are impressed by large mushrooms, a few of this season's behemoths have been well-publicized.
Let's start with Charlie Ware. By now, just about everyone on the Internet has seen the photos and read the story behind the massive morel. Ware was turkey hunting near Old Mines, Mo. According to reports, Ware stated, I was just walking along, calling and listening. I had just gotten a gobbler to answer me when I looked down and saw it. What he saw was a mushroom that defied belief. Official measurements by the Missouri Department of Conservation put the mushroom at 12-inches tall and measuring 13 inches in circumference, making many wonder if Ware's mushroom might be an all-time record.
Not far behind Ware's mushroom comes another prize from the Show Me state. Foraging in McDonald County, Melissa Nichols found a mushroom that rivaled Ware's prize. Also right at a foot tall, Melissa's mushroom was just a tiny bit smaller in circumference than Ware's. Melissa, known locally as Melissa Jean the Mushroom Queen, credits her grandmother for teaching her to find morels. In fact, she was in an area where she and her late grandmother had found mushrooms together years ago. I felt like she was there with me. She led me up the hill to that giant sycamore where I found the mushroom, says Nichols.
Also in McDonald County, Brian Mitchell has found not one, but several, giant morels this year. Brian is a seasoned mushroom hunter and locates big morels every spring. He attributes his finds to taking care of the resource. I have a few spots I nurture and let the mushrooms grow. I don't like to pick every mushroom in the area.
Rounding out this list of massive mushrooms is the morel found by Heath Martin and Devan Graham just over the Missouri line in Tonganoxie, Kan. Measuring in at a whopping 11 plus inches, this beast of a mushroom holds its own on any list of massive morels.
I asked Joe Lacefield, Private Lands Biologist with the KY Department of Fish and Wildlife, what might have contributed to the high number of bigger-than-normal morels. Morels need optimum growing conditions for at least 21 days to reach maximum size. Those conditions include warm temperatures without cold, dry winds, as well as adequate moisture over that entire time, reports Lacefield. It is pretty clear that, around Missouri at least, those conditions were met in the spring of 2016.
Have you found a giant morel this spring? Let us know.