Hungry for Morel Mushrooms? Head to Yosemite

It turns out that the shriveled shrooms love forests ravaged by fire

Morel Mushrooms
Have burned wasteland, will grow. Jena Fuller - Flickr/Creative Commons

Morel mushrooms are ridiculously valuable and coveted by chefs and foragers alike. But where’s the best place to find a flourishing patch of the funky shrooms? You might want to head to Yosemite National Park—as National Parks Traveler reports, a new study shows that they flourished there after a recent fire.

The study, published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, suggests that fires spur the abundant growth of morel mushrooms. This was the first analysis of the subject in the Sierra Nevadas, which are regularly home to fires due to over vegetation and drought conditions.

Fires have increased significantly in the mountain range over the last few decades, which is bad news for the climate and the mountains’ residents. But when it comes to mushroom hunting, it’s another story. The team conducted a four-year mapping project in an area affected by the 2013 Rim Fire, which burned 400 square miles and decimated trees and wildlife inside Yosemite National Park.

They found that morel mushrooms clustered in areas that had burned completely, and that it was more likely to find a mushroom near where another grew. Overall, they found 595 morel mushrooms in the circular, 33-square-foot plots they investigated—a potentially lucrative harvest, given that dried morels go for up to $75 per pound.

Ecologists aren’t the only ones who will be interested in this news. Yosemite National Park has a one pint per day limit for the collection of morel mushrooms, and they may only be collected for personal use. This irks foragers, who claim that they missed out on a $20 million harvest in 2013 alone.

“Relatively liberal harvest limits for recreational and subsistence harvesters appear appropriate and sustainable,” conclude the researchers, though they include a caveat that commercial harvesting may need to be monitored. Their numbers could even fall on the modest side given that they only looked at burned white-fir forests and burned areas.

So why do mushrooms flourish after fires? That’s still up for discussion, Alina Cansler, who co-authored the paper, tells National Parks Traveler. “We still don’t know why these species fruit after fire,” she said. “There are a number of theories and none have been tested scientifically.” Nobody may know why morels love fire-ravaged forests—but for lovers of their rare, nutty taste, the why isn’t as important as how to get them in their mouth.

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