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.

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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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3 Responses to The old question: Cut vs. pick?

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

  2. The difference is minimal however the mushroom and the picker will both be a little happier cutting. The mushroom because the mycelium will grow out from the bit you left improving coverage , the picker because less dirt. In terms of sustainability Never pick everything and always do this: So I was inspired by a video the Urban Agriculture Project put out about Morel mushroom cultivation. I vowed to try the spore mass slurry technique the next time I found a morel, This year has been a great year for morels and so far I have encountered 4 species. So I bought an aquarium pump and two air-stones. I wash the morels in filtered watter blend one up with rye flour, a few rye grains, and wood chips. 1.8ml of organic molases .8 tsp of salt. mix filtered water to fill a 5 litre bottle, then put the airstone in it and let it germinate for 48 hours. Then I mix the bottle up with filtered water and ddilute it to four more bottles I add a spoon of ash and charcoal to each,, I then go hunting for good morel spots and inoculate. As I do so I find morels for the next batch. This is my favorite way of mushroom hunting and I will do it from now on.

    • Fungi Amazonica says:

      I feel like We are often looking at our impact on nature focused entirely on how much we harm nature and not as much on how can we help. Mankind’s natural balance is to give back as it takes. If you are picking just to eat, take what you need and give a little back, if you are picking commercially you should give a lot back.

      Very simple and cheap technology can help the mushroom along using your human brains to hunt a home for and nurturing the spores. Allowing us to easily bring healthy germinating spores and mycelium to places we from experience believe are likely habitats. In this way we give back and then the Mushroom gives back. Hunting great places to inoculate brings a new mindset that in my experience is more effective in finding more mushrooms. Now the techniques will work sometimes so that in some of these spots you found that did not produce mushrooms will produce mushrooms you put there, Giving you new fruiting spots. you could also prepare at home or in the neighborhood. These patches become your babies and you wil know the best possible way to relate to the mushrooms you harvest. if every mushroom hunter did this there would be so many mushrooms everywhere, In the minimum,

      We can leave one or more mushrooms to shed spores from every patch, And at least use pure or filtered water if you rinse them and use that water into bottles of water and go squirting spores as you hunt.

      Different varieties of morels can live in an incredible range of habitats. Today I inoculated conifer mulch with black morels, all over a park near where I live.

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