The old question: Cut vs. pick?

San Juan Morels01With the great October fire morel flush of 2014 in progress, and the Arizona Mushroom Club about to go on foray in a day or two, the question arises anew: Should morels, and other species of mushrooms, be cut off flush at the base with a knife? Or should they be plucked out whole, base and all?

This topic can arouse markedly strong opinions on both sides. Those in favor of cutting say that it causes less disruption to the underground mycelium than yanking the entire mushroom out, and that cutting will result in larger yields in future seasons.  Those who prefer to pick the whole mushroom say that cutting leaves a stump that provides a vector for disease as it rots, and will reduce future harvests.

Bottom line? The best scientific research we have, as summarized by Britt Bunyard in the Spring 2012 issue of the wonderful FUNGI Magazine, finds that there is no meaningful difference in long-term yields, no matter which method is used!

Personally, I cut morels off at the base to keep them clean and reduce the likelihood of breaking their relatively fragile caps while plucking, but I don’t worry if some of them are pulled out whole due to my haste and carelessness. For king boletes, I pull them out whole, and use a brush and potato peeler to clean the meaty underground portion of dirt before it goes in my basket. Why let all that good flesh go to waste?

More research is needed, of course, and it may someday be proven that either cutting or picking may be better for a given species or genus of mushrooms, but for now there is no need to fret about doing the “right” thing.

Related to the cut-vs-pick issue is the question of sustainability, which we have addressed here before. Again, passions are strong on both sides of the question. Some people say we should tread lightly and harvest very few mushrooms, or even none at all. Others feel that harvesting mushrooms spreads their spores farther than they would otherwise travel, and improves long-term yields. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best research we have again suggests that there is no meaningful difference. Even protected research plots of forest where every single mushroom of every single species is harvested show long-term biomass production to be unaffected. And if you think about the trillions of minuscule spores that are released by a mushroom as it fruits, and can be carried thousands of miles away by the faintest air current, the notion that humans can improve on Mother Nature’s mechanisms for spore dispersal is rather comically anthropocentric.

It’s possible that removal of mushrooms has a marginal effect on species like elk and squirrels that eat them frequently, but this has not been demonstrated either. It would appear that the question of how much to pick is better addressed by ethical considerations for your fellow mushroomers, whether you call it the Golden Rule or karma, than by questions of sustainability.

However, this is not to say that sustainability should be disregarded altogether. If a detrimental effect is ever shown scientifically, our behavior in the woods should be revisited and perhaps modified.

What are your thoughts on this controversy? Share your ideas in the comments below, or on our Facebook group page.


About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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One Response to The old question: Cut vs. pick?

  1. Pingback: Setas: Arrancar o cortar por el pie | El Huerto 2.0

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