JEFFERSON CITY - The chanterelle, a lesser known edible fungus than the elusive morel, would rise from muddy obscurity to the distinction of Missouri's official mushroom under a bill proposed by a state representative.
"I want to assure the morel lovers that we know of their love," Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-St. Louis County, told a House Tourism Committee on Tuesday.
The bill's sponsor added, "I'm sure that you probably don't want the rest of the world to know about morels anyway."
Fares said she picked the Cantharellus Lateritius for state mushroom at the urging of the Missouri Mycological Society.
Maxine Stone, the former president of the statewide mushroom group, told the committee that the nutty-flavored, yellowish-organge fungus, thrives in forests all over the state.
"They love our oak hickory forests, our native forests. I've found carpets of them," Stone said.
She added that morels do not deserve the notoriety because they do not pop out of the ground as readily.
"This really isn't morel country," Stone said. "They do grow here and we do have our spots and we're not telling anybody our spots either."
But three mushroom-hunting legislators on the Tourism Committee questioned the proposal, which was expected to be non-controvercial.
"To make this the state mushroom when everyone in this room has heard of the morel would be a travesty, said Rep. J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence. "I just can't believe that we'd do something like that to our public citizens of the state of Missouri."
Kuessner voted against the bill, which was passed by the rest of the committee and will proceed to the full House.
The chanterelle is backed by the state's Conservation Department. Kevin Lohraff, assistant manager at Runge Conservation Nature Center, said he supports the chanterelle's official election because it has no poisonous look-a-alikes and is easy to identify.
The morel does have a poisonous variety. In fact, the chairman of the Tourism Committee asked Stone about the rust-colored morels he used to eat from the woods.
"I hate to tell you this," Stone told Rep. B.J. Marsh, R-Springfield. "It has been known to cause deaths in some people."
Lohraff recommended that mushroom hunters look for chanterelles during late spring through early fall in forests that have recently been burned and had rain.