Mushrooms are a nutrient-rich source of food that is not off the table for vegetarians and vegans alike. As such, it is a very popular food for people who are keen to reduce the harm they do—directly or indirectly—to the environment. A large part of that harm is the sustainability of any harvesting measures since even plant and fungi-based diets can harm the environment if your food is obtained in an irresponsible manner. And a common concern among mushroom lovers is whether or not their favorite fungus will grow back after being picked.
The truth of the matter is that, if you time your picking right so that you are picking the mushroom after it has released its spores, it makes no difference to the overall organism—the mycelium—because the mushroom is on a one-way ticket to decomposition after that point regardless of what you do to it. This means that you can pick mushrooms from the same spot more than once since they will continue to grow back as long as the mycelium is healthy.
The important thing is to leave that mycelium intact. If you attempt to pull a mushroom out of the ground—roots and all—or you go stomping around the ground where the mushrooms are growing, you could very well damage the mycelium, and that will prevent the mushrooms from growing back.
Still, there is plenty of relevant information about mushroom picking we’d wager you might be interested in, so keep reading, and we’ll walk you through it all.
Do Mushrooms Die When You Pick Them?
The short answer is yes; mushrooms begin to die when you pick them. A more complicated answer would be “it depends,” and the most accurate answer is that, if you do it right, it doesn’t matter.
We touched on this above, but the reality of mushrooms is that they are only the fruiting body for the larger organism. When the mushroom mycelium is ready to fruit, it grows the recognizable mushroom caps that you know and love. Those mushrooms then shed their spores, allowing the fungus to do what evolution always strives to do—live on through future generations—and then the mushroom, having performed its task, promptly begins to die.
Now, if you pluck a mushroom from its mycelium before it has shed its spores, it will begin to die because you have picked it, and it will die having not performed that task that is its only reason for being there in the first place. This is the worst possible outcome of mushroom picking from a sustainability standpoint since you want the mushrooms to be allowed to seed.
If, on the other hand, you pick a mushroom after it has shed its spores, you are not affecting the lifecycle of the fungus at all because that mushroom will already have started to die off. It will eventually decompose, and the process will begin again the next time it the mycelium fruits. It may also not begin again, but whether or not the mushrooms grow back has nothing to do with whether or not you picked them.
How Many Harvests Can I Get From my Mushrooms?
The precise number of mushrooms you can get from your mycelium varies between different mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms, for example, may give you three growths over the course of a few weeks before they are exhausted, while other types of mushrooms may give you new fruit a few times a year.
Growing kits for specific types of mushrooms will come with all the necessary instructions for how to judge this kind of thing, but for those of you sourcing your mushrooms out in the wonderful wilds of nature, it is worth noting that as long as you harvest your mushrooms after they have completed shedding their spores, you should always find plenty of mushrooms in that area to pick, even if they are part of a different batch to the last ones you picked. This is another reason why it is essential to be mindful of the area around where you are harvesting your mushrooms.
Mycelium is often invisible, owed to the fact that it is very small and grows through the substrate—the substance it is growing in, such as soil or tree. You won’t always know there is mycelium there, but you could still be destroying it by standing on it, preventing it from producing fruit bodies at a later date. Of course, if you are growing your mushrooms artificially, the prospect of destroying ungrown mushrooms with your hiking boots is not an issue.
In some cases, the mycelium will be visible and thus easy to avoid and make a note of for future foraging. Mycelium usually resembles a light thread-like structure, a little like spider webbing or candy floss.
What Triggers Mushroom Fruiting?
To understand what triggers mushroom fruiting, it helps to remember the mycelium that they sprout from mostly grows underground. The fungal growth tends to spread until it reaches the natural boundaries of the area it is growing in. In an artificial setting, these boundaries are fairly obvious—the edges of the container that the mycelium is growing in present an unmistakable roadblock to further expansion.
In nature, these boundaries may be less obvious, and mycelium can cover remarkably large areas, but the relevant point here is that it doesn’t begin to fruit until it is above ground, and this is the second key to getting your mushrooms to fruit.
Above ground, the carbon dioxide levels are much lower due to all those helpful plants breathing it in and spitting out oxygen. This is one of the ways mycelium knows it is above ground, and another factor in it deciding to fruit. If you are growing mushrooms artificially, you might consider poking holes in the container that you are growing them in once they are ready to fruit.
Finally, the climate around them also plays a part. The precise conditions in which mushrooms start to grow will vary from mushroom to mushroom, but they generally pay attention to temperature and humidity. When growing artificially, you will need to be able to dial both of these factors in to suit the specific mushrooms you are growing when you want them to fruit.
How Long Does it Take for a Mushroom to Start Pinning?
Pinning, which is the name given to the process of the mycelium sprouting small button-like growths that will eventually go on to become mushrooms, can take a week or two to occur from the point that the mycelium believes it is time to fruit.
The pins will not necessarily grow into mushrooms straight away if the environmental conditions aren’t right, and it can take as much as three weeks to get from a pin to a fully grown mushroom. The lower levels of carbon dioxide that we mentioned above are one of the most significant factors in pinning starting to occur, with the climate around those pins—the humidity and temperature—being the thing that can push the pins to grow into full mushrooms.
Should You Cut or Pull Mushrooms?
From the point of view of the mushroom and its mycelium, it doesn’t really matter whether you cut or pull the mushroom, so long as you leave the underlying mycelium intact. For this reason, it may be preferable to cut the mushroom as that reduces the likelihood of damaging the underlying structure.
That being said, most people, when referring to “pulling” mushrooms, do not merely grab the mushroom and yank it out of the ground; they employ a twisting motion that breaks the stem of the mushroom. It is also possible, in some cases, to bend the shaft to the breaking point. The critical factor here is that you are not damaging the mycelium, which would prevent future mushroom growth.
It helps to remember that the mushroom—assuming it has already shed its spores—will be dying anyway. If you weren’t there to pick it, the mushroom would decompose and, eventually, decay back into the substrate. Any mushroom stem left behind would only be doing what the mushroom itself would be doing if you’d left it in place.
As with many things in life, there is no universal answer to whether mushrooms grow back after you pick them—it all depends on the type of mushroom and the circumstances surrounding your picking. For the most part, mushrooms do tend to grow back if you are careful not to harm the mycelium that has sprouted them, though in some cases, that mycelium can eventually die.
Being sure only to pick mushrooms after they have shed their spores will ensure that you are not doing any damage to the fungi, as well as increasing the likelihood that there will always be mushrooms to pick in that area. Remember, once the mushroom has shed its spores, it is dying anyway.
As for how you pick those mushrooms, it doesn’t really make a difference as long as you don’t damage the mycelium. Cutting or pulling is fine; go with whatever works out easiest for you.