A quirk in the calendar — and rain predicted through Thursday — is likely to give tasty morel mushrooms a jump on their growing season.
Spring arrives a day early in 2020, on March 19, something that hasn't happened in 124 years. That means sunrises will begin earlier and sunsets a little later each day.
And with copious amounts of rain, the forest floor in the Ozarks will soon see the three species of wild morel mushrooms reaching up with their wrinkled, hollow caps waiting for morel hunters to find them.
The conservation department reminds folks who go looking for morels that there are many species of mushrooms in Missouri, and some can be quite toxic to humans. MDC has a publication that's a great guide for knowing what's edible and what's not.
There's a false morel that's poisonous and can be confused with true morels, which are delicious. Know what you're picking and, if you don't, go with someone who absolutely knows what they're doing.
Morel hunting is an Ozarks tradition that draws many people into the woods, despite the typical nuisances of ticks, chiggers and thorny bushes.
Why even do it? We asked some members of the Missouri Morel Mushroom Hunting Facebook community.
"It is the adult Easter egg hunt, once you find your first, you are hooked," said morel hunter Asle Dismang. "They're as much fun to find as to eat."
"My grandpa got me into hunting and foraging wild edibles," said Joshua Spurgin. "It's good stuff that most people don't experience. I feel like I'm a character in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when I'm able to just go into the woods and survive off of what I can find.
"One time I was hunting and I walked right into a buck, who upon realizing me became very displeased. The creature made this grunting, almost barking, sound, lifted up its horns, and just when I was near sure it was going to charge me, it went leaping off in the other direction."
It took a while for Rachel Oates to appreciate morel hunting.
"My family always mushroom hunted, but I wasn't interested until I became an adult," Oates said.
"Walking in the woods, seeing the flowers blooming and the trees starting to bud. All the snakes, turtles and bugs are enjoying the day, too. Then you happen upon something that you can eat. It's a great feeling. Last year my husband and I just crawled along the ground giggling because there were so many morels. Hoping this year is as good!"
"I never even liked mushrooms until we bought a farm two years ago and realized they were literally everywhere!" said Gina Ballinger.
"At first I was just excited to get out there and find the thing everyone desired so much and gave them to friends and family, until eventually I just invited them to come out and hunt with us! I decided to go ahead and prepare a few for my family and I was hooked.
"Been hunting them since I was a 4-year-old, maybe that's why I'm hooked," said Patricia DeWitt. "All the 'Easter eggs' are mine and I get to decide who I share them with."
"If my mother would have never taken me, I'd of never went," said Christopher Douglas.
"They are not exactly easy to find so obviously when you do, it's exciting. Our honey holes have been passed down three or four generations, and I've added a few more magic spots to my areas."
As spring arrives, happy hunting!