Morel Mushrooms: A Complete Guide

Written by Em Casalena
Published: December 13, 2022
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Almost any outdoor area will support the growth of wild mushrooms, especially if it is damp and shaded. Thus, harvesting mushrooms is pretty easy in most places where there is occasional rain. However, you need to exercise caution since certain mushrooms can be poisonous. Fortunately, morel mushrooms are one type of mushroom that you may eat without worrying!

Due to their widespread availability, morel mushrooms are a favorite among many hunters. They may be easily located in a variety of natural locations. Since they are popular mushrooms, some people even sell them on the open market. However, use caution when looking for these delectable treats on your own. If you want to be sure you have the appropriate mushroom and not false (a.k.a. toxic) morels, you must inspect them closely.

We’ll break down all the facts you need to know about morel mushrooms in this in-depth article. We’ll take a look at potential toxic doppelgangers and also explain how to grow these delicious mushrooms on your own.

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Information About Morel Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms
ClassificationMorchella genus
DescriptionA genus of mushrooms known as “true” morels that are known for their meaty texture and small, oblong light-brown caps that resemble webbing or a honeycomb.
UsesCulinary
How to GrowWhen growing these mushrooms, provide filtered sunlight and very loamy soil fertilized with decaying woodchips.
How to ForageCheck around heavily-wooded areas around oak and aspen trees that are decaying or dying.
Key Identifying FeaturesLook for brown caps that have an almost pointed appearance. This mushroom can grow singularly or in very small clusters.
OriginNorth America, Europe

Morel Mushrooms: Classification

True morel mushrooms can be classified as any species of mushroom in the genus morchella. All fungi in this genus have a honeycomb-like look to the ridges on their caps. Some common species of true morels include morchella esculenta, morchella vulgaris, and morchella prava. Morchella esculenta is considered the most common true morel that is foraged for food.

Morel mushrooms growing among flowers

Morel mushrooms (pictured) have ridged, eye-catching caps that make them easy to identify.

©milart/Shutterstock.com

Morel Mushrooms: Key Identifying Features and Appearance

The location where they are growing, the types of soil or trees nearby, and other elements can greatly alter how morels appear. While some morels are long and slender, others are short and stocky. They come in a variety of hues, from brown to grey to yellow. They can also range in size from a fingertip to as big as your hand.

But morels may generally be identified by their outside honeycomb design. Morels have a white-hued, bumpy interior that is hollow. A counterfeit morel will not be empty when sliced open; instead, it will be filled with white threads that resemble cotton.

Make sure the base of the cap continually meets a white stem while attempting to differentiate real morels from certain counterfeit morels. On the stem, fake morels are hanging freely. True morels have more consistent shapes as compared to lookalike mushrooms. False morels tend to be more bulgy and wavy because they are pitted inside rather than bursting outward.

You shouldn’t eat them unless you or someone you know is an expert in mushroom identification, as you should with any wild mushroom. Never assume that something is unquestionably safe just because you saw a description or image of it online! Simply don’t eat it if you have any concerns that what you are seeing is a real morel.

Morel Mushrooms: Where They Grow

As you prepare your foraging strategies, you must be aware of where to discover genuine morel mushrooms. Thankfully, there are several places around the globe where morel mushrooms may be found. Numerous locations in North America are among such areas. In the Midwest of the United States, particularly in the areas of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, they are simple to recognize. Hunting is quite common in the Great Lakes region. Additionally, they can be found in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, southwestern Ontario, and Manitoba. They are also well-liked in several regions of southern Asia. They also flourish in Turkey, Pakistan, and India.

Morel mushrooms may be found growing in warm, wet, gloomy spots that warm up in the spring. Any region that receives enough moisture is an excellent spot to look for treasure. The growth occurs after the winter since the earth is more active and suited to its production. The mushroom often sprouts where there are or have been trees.

It’s simple to go mushroom hunting for them. Look at the southern-facing slopes. Mushrooms can grow more readily on southern slopes of hillsides because the sun heats them more quickly. Look for regions where there have been natural or human disasters. It is best to look for them in regions that have already undergone floods or where there are off-road vehicles and foot usage.

Additionally, look for forest regions that have recently had fires. However, don’t enter such locations until the fires have been put out. Prime areas are those newly exposed regions where trees once stood. Streams and small streams are locations with soft soil and sufficient rainfall to support their growth.

Morel mushrooms cut open to reveal hollow inside

Morel mushrooms (pictured) are hollow inside, which makes them easy to identify from false or poisonous lookalikes.

©iStock.com/Helin Loik-Tomson

Morel Mushrooms: Potential Look-Alikes

Even though they have a lot of poisonous lookalikes, recognizing morel mushrooms is not difficult if you pay close attention to the details.

The verpa bohemica, or wrinkled thimble cap mushroom, is a common morel mushroom lookalike. From the exterior, verpa bohemica resembles a morel the most. It does have a feature that at first glance resembles a honeycomb cap, but upon closer inspection, the feature more closely resembles a wrinkled sheet or the lobes of a brain. Due to the presence of gyromitrin, this mushroom may be poisonous.

Fungi under the genus gyromitra are also potentially dangerous lookalikes. Despite having ridged tops, these mushrooms are not closely related to morels and they differ greatly in many ways. The mushroom is frequently much larger than it is tall, and the ridges don’t resemble a honeycomb at all but rather folds of fabric. Even if you manage to find a gyromitra mushroom and mistake it for a morel, cutting it in half lengthwise will reveal its real nature. The obvious sign is the lack of hollowness. Additionally, they often have a much redder cap than a morel.

Morel Mushrooms: How They Are Used

When used in cooking, morel mushrooms may provide a range of foods with a beautiful flavor. Morels have a far more delicate texture and flavor than many cultivated mushrooms, such as cremini and portabella, which when cooked have a strong, meaty flavor. They are frequently characterized as being nutty, earthy, and woodsy. Even a slight smokiness may be present in the darker kinds.

Before eating, morels should be cooked. Morel mushrooms eaten uncooked may cause stomach distress. Trim the stems’ bottom ends to get rid of any dried-out or tough edges before cooking. Smaller mushrooms can be cooked whole when sautéed as a side dish or to add to pasta, whereas bigger mushrooms can be cut in half lengthwise. For use as garnishes, in soups, and in sauces, they can also be minced into smaller pieces.

Due to its numerous health advantages, morels have also been used in traditional medicine for generations. Recent studies have shown that they contain anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunostimulatory, and anti-tumor qualities.

Morel Mushrooms: Where They Are Purchased

Because morels are valuable, many foragers are interested in hunting them. Each pound may be sold for between $200 and $300. Due to their rarity, many farmers’ markets and vegetable stands are prepared to pay for them. The majority of individuals offer them for sale at farmers’ markets or marketplaces for organic foods. You could have more success foraging for them due to their high cost than purchasing them from a store.

The Morel Mushroom Life Cycle and Behavior

The morel mushrooms spores on the asci are released and begin to germinate when the fruiting body, which is what we see when we forage for morel mushrooms, is above ground and absorbs light. The main mycelia of the fungus generate a sclerotium, which in turn produces the morel’s fruiting body. This process is repeated once the fungus has germinated itself through asexual reproduction. But the sclerotium can change back to the major mycelia to undergo plasogamy if the conditions are right for sexual reproduction.

A tough mass of mycelium cells called the sclerotium is developed to help shield the subterranean fungus from severe environmental conditions. The sclerotium will develop the fruiting bodies of the fungus in either myceliogenic (towards the root) or carpogenic (above ground) germinations when the circumstances are suitable in order to begin the process of reproduction once more.

Harvested morel mushrooms in a forager's hand

Morel mushrooms (pictured) can grow in abundance when grown at home in the right conditions.

©Ramazan Kurdanov/Shutterstock.com

How to Grow Morel Mushrooms

Morel mushrooms can be quite difficult to grow. However, it is definitely worth trying! Because morels are unpredictable mushrooms, you could follow all the instructions precisely and yet experience failure the first time you attempt. Nevertheless, a lot of gardeners succeed, even if it occasionally takes several tries.

The fact that morels won’t grow inside as many other mushrooms do adds to the challenge of cultivating them. Because morels are finicky, this provides the gardener less control over the growth environment, which results in a reduced success rate. With a grow kit, you can increase your odds a little bit, but it’s best to go into this knowing that growing morels is a lengthy process that is partly out of your control. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying; don’t give up!

Get morel mushroom spawn or spores to start. For this, you may buy a grow kit, purchase one online or from a specialist shop, or collect your own spores from a morel that has been foraged. The most dependable method for collecting morel spores is to boil water with a spoonful of molasses and a dash of salt. Add the shredded or chopped morel pieces after the water has boiled and cooled.

One complete morel is required at the very least. However, you can add more for a better chance of getting spores. After two days, filter the water through cheesecloth to get rid of the mushroom pieces. When the water is prepared, it may be poured straight over the planting location and should contain lots of spores.

After adding your spores, spread a thin coating of compost over the area. In a few days, you might be able to observe mushroom development if the circumstances are favorable and you’re lucky. Because morels grow so fast, keep a close check on the area where you planted them. Give them another day or two to develop and mature when they start to appear. Although you can leave them outside longer, bear in mind that they will be exposed to the elements and wildlife. You run a higher risk of damaged mushrooms the longer you let them grow. Harvest your morel mushrooms by snapping or cutting them off at the base. Avoid pulling them up since doing so might harm the mycelium network from which the mushrooms develop.

Morel mushrooms are a true delight to forage for, and they can also be quite fun to grow at home. When foraging, be sure to distinguish edible morel mushrooms from potentially dangerous counterparts. If you play it safe, you’ll have some stellar mushrooms to use for making a wide range of dishes.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tomasz Czadowski/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are morel mushrooms poisonous?

True morels that are part of the morchella species can cause illness when eaten raw. However, they are safe when eaten cooked.

Why are morel mushrooms so popular in cuisine?

Morel mushrooms have a meat-like texture, making them an excellent mushroom to use as a meat substitute.

What parts of the morel mushroom are edible?

Both the caps and stems of the morel mushroom are edible and quite delicious!

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Pat O'Reilly, Available here: https://www.first-nature.com/fungi/morchella-esculenta.php
  2. Michael Kuo, Available here: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/morchellaceae.html
  3. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Staff, Available here: http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/f2013/vidmar_mia/classification.htm