Monday, 9 April 2012

What is a morel mushroom?

Common morel mushroom

For some people, spring means daffodils, longer days and daring to go out without an all-in-one body suit to protect against the cold.

But for the mushroom hunter, it means one thing, and one thing only: morels.

Morels are the holy grail of the wild mushroom world – they are a rare and distinctive variety of fungi, with their pitted, irregular honeycomb crowns and hallow hearts. They are beautiful and elusive.

Lady luck

For those who have been lucky enough to find them, I congratulate you (and envy you deeply)!

For three seasons now, I have been unable to walk (or cycle) past a bed of woodchip – heaving with the potential for spring-time morels – without slowing to a conspicuous halt, scanning the ground, trying not to attract attention.

I've spent afternoons in the woods, eyes trained on the ground.
I have searched in wood and bark chippings in my garden and my local park, by the edges of car parks, and by the side of the road – in all sorts of urban settings, after all, the rumour goes that morels are decidedly urban. 

But never once have I been lucky enough to see a gleaming morel (morchella esculenta) or semifree morel (mitrophora semilibera), there before my eyes like a mushroom mirage. But that doesn’t stop me looking.


I’ve heard that people have had success finding morels in Leeds – Mina Allsopp, for example, has unwittingly taunted me with her facebook posts about the huge batch she found at an undisclosed location – the pictures made my heart race.

Of course I was thrilled for her, too – it was the first time she had found morels, and she has years of fungi-related experience on me. Her streak of luck gives me hope! 


Do be aware that there is one deadly poisonous type of mushroom that can be confused with the morel – it is called the false morel (gyromitra esculenta), or sometimes the beefsteak morel. It is deadly poisonous.

It has a very similar appearance to edible ones, with a dark brown head and pale stem, but the ridges on the cap are folded rather than pitted (see above image).

Also, morels and semifree morels are (reportedly) delicious, but never eat them raw. 

Want to know more: how to identify morel mushrooms

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