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Morel mushroom hunters are in the middle of one of the latest seasons in memory, following one of the earliest seasons ever in 2012. Photos by Matt Buedel.

Mushroom hunting season far from over in central Illinois

May 11, 2013 at 07:36 AM

Peoria Journal Star

PEORIA — Morel mushroom hunters are in the midst of an exceptional season for the second straight year, though the size of the haul isn’t necessarily the noteworthy part of the last two years.

The timing of the spongy fungus’ appearance, instead, is the most unusual aspect, with the dry and earliest-ever season of 2012 in central Illinois followed this year by one of the latest and wettest in memory.

“This year, we’re at least two weeks, if not three weeks behind average, which is just the opposite of last year,” said Tom Nauman, owner of Morel Mania in Magnolia and one of the names most synonymous with morels in the Midwest. “We’re not even to the middle of the season yet.”

The period to find morels in the Peoria area normally ends around Mother’s Day, but Nauman said a rare possibility exists this year for mushroom hunters around the River City: a season that could last beyond the month of May.

“We’re going to go another week and possibly two … maybe into June,” he said.

Nauman’s hunts so far this year have yielded good results, he said, though the cool weather and high moisture levels have not generated large numbers of mushrooms in any single area.

A short hunt Friday morning on private property in Fulton County produced results that reflect Nauman’s findings.

Areas with several dead and dying elm trees that in more normal years could produce large finds instead yielded only a few mushrooms at a time. Small patches of larger yellow morels — some freshly peaking out from beneath leaf litter, others too decayed to bother harvesting — were found on steep hillsides near creek beds.

The winner of the Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship last weekend near Ottawa found 79 mushrooms in two hours, most thumb-sized grey morels instead of the larger, later season yellow variety. Last year, the winner walked away with seven mushrooms, none edible because of their state of decomposition so late in the season.

The lateness of the 2013 season has been reflected in morel auction prices at festivals in Missouri and Illinois, Nauman noted. The fungus has been selling for as much as $100 per pound after being hauled in from areas farther south.

The immediate weather forecast calls for a cool down that could hamper mushroom growth, but Nauman said the temperatures won’t stop the season like a heat spell could.

“The rain we’re getting can only bring more,” he said. “This weekend should be really good for the entire area.”

Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him on Twitter @JournoBuedel.

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