Wednesday 15 May 2019

The Mesh Bag Morass

Morchella importuna in da hat!
©M. Kilger

"Use a mesh bag, so you spread the seeds, otherwise they won't grow no more!" 

How many hundreds of times, per season, do you see something similar to this come across your Morel/mushroom feeds?

A lot, right?

Because a large number of people feel that it's vitally important that you carry your Morels (and, apparently, other species) in a mesh bag, so that they can "spread spores".

So let's talk about this.

Spores are not seeds

Part of the issue is that many people don't really understand how mushrooms work. 

Mushrooms are not plants, and spores are not seeds. 

Mushrooms are the reproductive bodies of fungi, which are members of the taxonomical kingdom, Fungi (surprising, no?), and are not members of the Plantae kingdom. 

Seeds are a more complex, multicellular structure that nourishes the nascent plant within, while it gestates.

Spores are unicellular structures which, when germinated, become hyphae - the first, filamentous stage of fungal growth. 

As mentioned, mushrooms aren't plants - they do not grow directly from the spores in a 1:1 ratio. They are the fruiting body of a larger organism, made up of hyphae, called a mycelium. 


The genus Morchella is in the family Morchellaceae - the Morels that we so love - which is part of the phylum Ascomycota. 

This is relevant, because it helps to describe the way in which Morchella sporulate - that is, how they distribute their spores. 

Ascomycota produce their spores in groups, within a structure called an ascus. 

Asci are vase-shaped organs, and in Morchellaceae, they are capped with an operculum, which covers the open end. 

As the ascocarp (mushroom) develops and matures, there comes a point where the pressure inside of an ascus exceeds the ambient pressure, and that operculum ruptures, causing the spores to eject from the ascus and catch the wind. 

This action, in many cases, causes adjacent asci to also rupture, resulting in a chain-reaction, referred to as "puffing" (yes, that IS the technical term), releasing clouds of spores at just about the same time. 

Morels, when mature, have already puffed out the vast majority of their spores, by the time that you find them, or during the process of harvesting and brushing them. 

This means that, by the time that they reach your bag, they have dumped more spores than they still hold. 

If you are picking immature mushrooms, they aren't ready to sporulate anyway, so mesh bags won't help spore dispersal at all. 

What does the science say? 

Honestly? Nothing. 

We currently have no data that supports or refutes any human effect on Morchella spore distribution. 

However, given the method by which they disperse their spores, it seems unlikely that there is any statistically significant effect. 

How should I carry my Morels? 

However you like. 

Use whatever method works best for you, whether it is a mesh bag, a bucket, a box, a hat, a shirt, a pillowcase, a backpack, your hands... literally, whatever you like. 

The important thing is protecting them from damage, and allowing them air flow. In a sealed environment, especially in warmer weather, they are prone to bacterial growth and quick decay. Allowing air flow helps prevent this, by allowing moisture to escape. 

Keep in mind, of course, that crawling over, under, and through brush, logs, and other obstacles can crush Morels, when kept in a non-rigid container. Depending on where you hunt, this may be a factor in determining the proper container for your finds. 

However you want to carry them, though, is not going to hurt the population, or their propagation. 

Good luck, and happy hunting! 

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