Morel Season is Here! First official 2022 sighting in Piketon, OH

***Please consult multiple identification sources and expert opinions before consuming any foraged food***

Morel season has arrived! The violets have started to bloom and spring’s welcoming fungi have started to come up enticing mushroom hunters to brave the intermittent rain and mud of the season to find these elusive and gourmet mushrooms of the season. In this review of Morels and their pursuit I will go over some of the types of Morel mushrooms, their most common lookalike and some tell tale signs that you have run into one.

Yellow Morel Mushrooms

Morels and False Morel species are ascomyscetes that produce an apothecium on a stem. The Morchella variety’s upper part resembles a hive-like top with defined pits and ridges. Morels when cut down the middle will always reveal a hollow stem. Morchella are found in association with Elm, Apple, Ash, Tulip Poplar trees but they are also common in wayside areas. Morels are highly desired and false morels can be toxic so it is important to observe closely. Morels are a sure indicator of spring in Eastern North America and that is when it is expected to come across this coveted mushroom, however it is also cosmopolitan appearing around the Mediterranean region and Europe at least based on my social media interest. Here are listed the most typical Morel varieties in Eastern North America based on information gathered from Mushrooms of the Northeastern US and Canada by Timothy Baroni.

Black Morel Morchella angusticeps (Peck)

A cone-like top that attaches to the stem is a good place to start with the Black Morel. The top’s ridges are a shade of black and inside the pits are a lighter color. The cap of the Black Morel has a geometric structure to it and resembles a hive. The stem is hollow when dissected. Black Morels are found in mixed woodlands in association especially with Elm trees. This is one of the first mushrooms of spring and if you are having luck with this delicacy, then be on the lookout for the next variety:

Yellow Morel Morchella americana (Clowez & Matherly)

The Yellow Morel is bigger and more pronounced. The Yellow Morels’ cap tends to be less symmetrical and the ridges and pits even more defined. The cap connects to the stem. The color of both the pits and ridges are the same color as the flesh of the stem, but as it ages the ridges will start to yellow. The stem is more substantial on the Yellow Morel and is hollow when sliced lengthwise. The Yellow Morel is less picky about where it grows and can show up in association with the above named trees and wayside areas.

Half-Free Morel Morchella punctipes (Peck)

This is a smaller variety of Morel mushrooms, and appears similar to the other varieties by the pits and ridges on the cap and the hollow stem. What distinguishes this variety is the cap is not attached to the stem. The cap hangs freely from the stem sitting on the stem in appearance as a hat. This variety is pickier in its habitat, but it is not as highly sought after because of its small stature.

You’re going to want to get intimate with the ground when searching for Morels. The forest floor is still a mess of leaves and dead plant debris from the previous season and these blend in perfectly to their surrounding areas. There are coveted “spots” that hunters return to each year and my favorite is the unsuspecting forager on social media who has unwittingly uncovered a metaphorical gold mine of mushrooms only to inquire into what they are observing!

False Morel: Notice the LACK of pits. Also, the stem is not hollow.

The last piece of this puzzle is to known what is NOT a Morel. False Morels or Gyromitra varieties are kind of similar in appearance to Morels in that they have an apothecium that bulbous hat on top, but they lack the distinctive and defined pits that make a Morel identifiable. When cutting a false morel down the middle, the stem will not be hollow, this is another great way to know whether you have found or been fooled. A habitat clue is that Gyromitra grows with conifers whereas Morel grow in both hardwood and conifer forests. So if it’s growing in a hardwood forest you can be more confident in your identification and leave conifer forest finds be.

The Helvella is one other in the same category of ascomycetes. The Helvella has a smooth yet folded cap and the stem can be distinguished by pitting and uneven surface. This is a conifer habitat mushroom and is another clue as to prevent any misidentification.

Black Helvella Species with ridged stem and smooth misshapen cap

The stately nature of the Morel’s honeycomb cap with its unmistakable pits and ridges is such a defining feature that the appearance of such gourmet and desired mushrooms on your path should be considered a grace of honor. It should be noted that while all varieties of Morels are considered edible, there may be a slight portion of the population that are sensitive to them especially with alcohol, so if you have never tried the delight of Morels, then you should eat a small amount at first and observe any possible reaction. Otherwise, finding and foraging Morel mushrooms is a past time and competition for many but a treasured spring time tradition to celebrate the coming of light, warmth and the bounties of summer! Happy Hunting.

***Please consult multiple identification sources and expert opinions before consuming any foraged food***

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Adam Ganson is a forager, cultivator, rollerblader, & artist. His career centers around sustainability & agriculture. He draws inspiration from natural wonder.

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Adam Ganson

Adam Ganson

Adam Ganson is a forager, cultivator, rollerblader, & artist. His career centers around sustainability & agriculture. He draws inspiration from natural wonder.

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