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How Do Morels Reproduce?

Morel mushrooms can be a challenge to find in the wild thanks to their short growing season and their need for specific soil and weather conditions. But perhaps understanding how they grow and spread would help you better predict when and where to find them. So, how do morels reproduce? How fast do they grow? And can you find them in the same spots year after year? In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.

How Do Morels Spread?

how do morels spread

Morels reproduce in much the same way as other mushrooms, but they need a highly specific set of conditions to grow. Remember, the visible mushrooms are only the fruits of a much larger network of fungus filaments, known as mycelium, found in the soil.

The morel fungus, like other mushrooms, can spread in two different ways: 

  • The mushrooms produce spores that are released into the environment when the fruiting heads mature. These spores produce strands of mycelium which grow and spread like roots until they are mature enough to produce mushrooms in new locations.
  • The mycelium can also spread out through the soil, growing and spreading to new locations. That’s why if you find one patch of morels, there’s a decent chance you’ll find more growing nearby.

Of course, morels don’t spread as widely or as easily as some types of mushrooms, which is part of what makes them such a treat for mushroom foragers–morels are somewhat rare and can be difficult to find in the wild.

How Do Morels Release Their Spores?

Morel spores are produced in the honeycomb cap of the mushrooms. When a morel is mature, it releases the spores, which are then usually blown away in the wind or carried off by flowing water.

According to Live Science, mushrooms also have a unique ability to get rid of their spores by allowing themselves to dehydrate. This action allows cool, dense air and water vapor to be released, and the spores are carried away from the mushroom on this air and water vapor.

If you harvest morels and soak them in water to clean them, many of the spores will get washed off into the water. You can then dump this water in a location that has ideal conditions for morels to grow, and some of the spores may develop into mycelium, eventually producing mushrooms.

How Fast Do Morels Grow?

how fast do morels grow

Morels grow quite quickly once the fungus has gotten itself established in a spot, but it can take some time for it to get established.

Once the spores have been deposited, it can take up to five years for them to develop enough mycelium to produce mushrooms. Once the mycelium is mature and ready to produce mushrooms, morels begin sprouting and can grow to maturity in as little as 6 days.

What does this mean for you practically if you’re trying to start your own patch of morels?

It means that, if you dump water full of morel spores as discussed above, it may take up to five years for the mushrooms to start growing. And that’s assuming the conditions are ideal for morel growth and the spores begin developing into mycelium in the first place. 

It is extremely difficult to grow morels this way, as they are not easily cultivated even if all the proper conditions are met.

Do They Grow Faster After a Rain?

Morels do best with neither too much or too little rainfall. They are often found growing after a rain, but the rain alone doesn’t necessarily affect how quickly they grow.

They need a combination of conditions for the mushrooms to appear. Daytime temperatures need to be consistently between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit with low temperatures not lower than 40 degrees, and the soil temperature needs to be around 50 degrees.

The ground where they grow needs to be damp but not soggy. Too much rain can actually inhibit their growth.

Oddly enough, some varieties of morel seem to prefer the soil conditions after a forest fire instead of after a rain. According to the University of Washington, the conditions created when fire burns an area can stimulate the mycelium in the soil to fruit, thus producing a crop of morels in highly unlikely places.  

Do Morels Grow Overnight?

There are rumors that morels pop up overnight because of how they appear suddenly for a short season before disappearing again.

While it is true that morels can emerge from the soil within a single night, they are not ready to harvest at that point. They do not mature for at least 6 days and may take longer depending on the specific growing conditions–10 to 15 days is average.

Morels do grow quickly, and their season passes just as quickly, so if you’re hoping to get your hands on a nice harvest this year, you’ll want to pay close attention to the areas you plan to hunt to make sure you don’t miss them.

Will Morels Grow Back in the Same Spot?

Generally, yes. As long as the conditions remain good for the morel mycelium in the soil, it will continue to produce mushrooms in the same spot year after year.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that forest and woodland conditions can change over time, and morels require very specific growing conditions that can be easily disturbed by even small changes.

If you enjoy your yearly morel hunts, then it’s probably a good idea to start in the same areas where you’ve found them in past seasons. But you may also want to search out new areas each year–just in case your usual spots stop yielding mushrooms one year.

For some great tips on finding, harvesting, cooking, and storing morels, check out the following video.

Conclusion

Morels reproduce in two ways: by sending out spores through air and water, and by spreading their mycelium through the soil. The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies produced by threadlike networks of mycelium, and if you find one morel growing in an area, there’s a good chance you’ll soon find more.

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