Bill Doig found morel mushrooms in the woods on March 22 this year, about two weeks earlier than normal to find the first mess of mushrooms. He's the county Extension ag educator in Johnson County, and he's using morel mushrooms to draw people to meetings and help them understand concepts such as fungal growth, and the relationship of various types of plants to heat units, also known as growing degree days.
"To get mushrooms to begin coming up, you need soil temperatures in the low 50's degrees F, and highs during the days in the '70's and nighttime lows in the mid-40's," he says. There may be mystique and magic to mushrooms, but there is also some science involved.
Mushrooms emerge from mycelia growing underground, he explains. The mycelium can either produce a fruiting body, the morel, or more mycelia. That's why you don't always find mushrooms coming back in the same spot every year. They also produce sclerotium, which are similar to spores. They're released into the air, and if they land where there are mycelia growing underground, mushrooms could come up there.
"Think of it as a hormone system as an example," he says. "You may have a hormone, but you don't' get any results from the hormone unless it finds a receptor."
One part of the program that Doig presents is designed to dispel myths about mushrooms. There are plenty, such as mushrooms won't grow around pine trees or will only grow on the certain side of trees. I've personally found mushrooms around pine trees, and debunked some of these myths for myself. The best clue to finding mushrooms it's to go with someone who is experienced and has a good eye for distinguishing mushrooms form dead leaves on the forest floor."
"Just go out and enjoy the woods," Doig says. "That's part of our message to people."