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Every week there are new marvels to look for in the outdoors, and Discover Nature highlights these attractions. The Missouri Department of Conservation’s Josh Hartwig brings us the stories of river otters, luna moths, red buds, and other actors as they take center stage in nature’s theater.You can hear Discover Nature, Mondays at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Discover Nature: Mushrooms

Missouri Department of Conservation
Yellow Morels (Common Morels)

Discover nature this week with Missouri's mushroom. Late March and April showers bring… mushrooms? Yep!

Showers and warm nights make morels grow and send folks to their favorite mushroom-hunting spots.

In late spring, watch for morels growing on the ground. The top or cap looks something like a sponge, with a shape like a tiny Christmas tree. The stem is thick, and when sliced, the whole mushroom is hollow. Three species are commonly found in our area, so morels will vary in color from gray to tan or yellow. They come in a variety of sizes, but most average three to four inches tall.

Like all mushrooms, morels are a fungus; and the part we pick is basically just the fruit. The main structure grows underground, which is a net of fibers that lives on decaying leaves and wood.

And the crazy thing is, morels seem to pop up overnight! They usually grow in 24 to 48 hours. Look for them in moist woods, river bottoms, and on south-facing slopes every few days or so. They’re often found near dead elm trees, in old orchards or burned areas.

But as with any wild edible, be sure you can identify morels before eating them. Either tag along behind an experienced morel hunter or take a good reference book along on your hunt. And please, if you’re not 100% positive of the ID, don’t eat it! It’s like what my mom says when I call her to ask about long-lost leftovers I discover in my fridge: “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Here’s a few quick How-to’s for MUSHROOM HUNTING

• Look for them from early spring (morels) to late fall (oysters and lion’s mane).

• Morels have a short, specific growing season of just several weeks in spring, while oyster mushrooms can be found from spring clear through to the beginning of winter

• There is no test to determine edible versus poisonous mushrooms. Even seeing evidence of animals eating them won’t work here. The only sure-fire way to tell if a mushroom is edible is by positive identification.

More information about morels and mushroom hunting in Missouri can be found online at missouriconservation.org.

Josh Hartwig is the host of Discover Nature and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
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