The Morchellaceae family consists of the genus Morchella, genus Verpa and genus Disciotis. Although Gyromitra species belong to the same Order as Morchellaceae, they are in an entirely different Family (Discinaceae).
Several species of morels exist worldwide; many of these are being reclassified based on DNA analysis. Debate continues about the actual number of morel species found in Michigan.
Six common morels are discussed in the Wild-foraged Mushroom Certification Program: Morchella americana, Morchella angusticeps, Morchella diminutiva, Morchella exuberans, Morchella importuna and Morchella punctipes.
Click on the names below to expand each species’ detailed description.
= Morchella esculentoides
previously known as Morchella esculenta, Morchella crassipes, Morchella deliciosa
|M. americana||Common color variations|
Common name: Common morel, Yellow morel, White morel, Gray morel.
Description: M. americana is a commonly harvested spring mushroom which ranges in color from gray to whitish to yellowish. The fruiting body is medium to large (up to 5-22 cm or more tall). The sponge–like head is egg-shaped, oval to conical, or pine cone-shaped with pits and ridges that are primarily vertically arranged. On all forms the ridges are paler than the pits. The hollow whitish stipe is nearly equal, or enlarged toward the base, attached to the cap without a notable overhang or rim. When found with a stout and enlarged stipe base, yellow morels have been known as M. crassipes, but DNA evidence has shown these to be older yellow morels which have grown in optimal conditions of temperature and moisture.
Ecology/associated hosts: Morchella americana is likely saprotrophic and may be opportunistic endophytes or parasites of plants. (Research is ongoing to confirm the ecology of these fungi.) This morel is often found under hardwoods, especially ashes and recently dead elms, as well as aspens, balsam poplars, sycamores, tulip trees, and apple trees in old abandoned orchards. Occasionally this morel will be found associated with conifers, especially white pine.
Look-alikes: All true morels are edible but there are two edible species of true morels which can be mistaken for M. americana.
1.) Morchella prava differs visually be having pits and ridges that are randomly arranged and irregular; almost appearing as contorted. The pits are almost black in young fruiting bodies and may remain black or turn brown with age.
2.) Morchella cryptica is not discernible macroscopically to which Michael Kuo et al, 2012, stated “we are stuck not knowing, in the Great Lakes region, whether the most commonly collected, consumed and sought after morels are M. cryptica or M. americana without testing their DNA.”
previously known as Morchella elata
Common name: Common eastern black morel.
Description: Morchella angusticeps is generally the first true morel to appear in spring in Michigan. The fruiting body is up to 18 cm tall. The sponge-like head is variable in shape but usually elongated and pointed. The head has elongated and irregular pits with ridges that darken with age. The young black morel may appear almost white when covered by leaf litter, but the mature black morel will have brownish pits and dark ridges. The hollow, whitish stipe is attached to the head with a slight overhang or rim. The stipe will darken to reddish brown as it ages.
Ecology/associated hosts: The black morel is a saprotroph and root endophyte. It can be found under hardwoods, especially white ash and tulip trees, but also cherry, aspen and sometimes pines.
Look-alikes: Morchella septentrionales is a similar black morel, which occurs north of the 45th parallel in Michigan. This black morel is slightly smaller, found under hardwoods, and can be found fruiting from decaying wood of big-toothed aspen and white ash. It is considered saprophytic. As with all true morels, it is edible as long as it well cooked.
Common name: Yellow morel.
Description: Morchella diminutiva is a yellow morel with a fruiting body up to 11 cm tall. The sponge-like head is conical and rarely egg-shaped or cylindrical. The pits are primarily arranged vertically. Young M. diminutiva are yellowish with bald, flat ridges and dark gray pits. As they mature, the ridges and pits equalize in color, becoming yellow to brownish yellow. The equal, hollow stipe can be up to 7 cm and is attached to the cap directly with little or no overhang. It may be slightly swollen at the base. The stipe is generally longer and skinnier than other Morchella species making this a feature to differentiate from other species.
Ecology: This yellow morel is likely saprotrophic and may be an opportunistic endophyte or parasite of plants. (Research is ongoing to confirm the ecology of these fungi.) M. diminutiva can be found growing alone, scattered and/or gregariously. M. diminutiva can be found under hardwoods, especially white and green ash, tulip trees and hickories. It usually fruits in April through May.
Look-alikes: This small morel can be mistaken for Morchella americana when its cap is less conical, stem is shorter and ridges and pits are more uniform. As with all true morels, it is edible as long as it is well cooked.
= Morchella capitata
Common name: Burn-site morel.
Description: The hollow caps of Morchella exuberans are from 4-8 cm tall, conical or nearly round. On mature caps, the ridges are dark brown to black. The pits are primarily vertically, elongated and brown to tan at maturity. The cap is attached to the stipe with a small groove.
The white stipe is layered or chambered, especially near the base; even when immature.
Ecology: This morel is a saprotroph and root endophyte. It often appears in May through mid-June in conifer forests the first year after a fire but rarely two years after.
Look-alikes: There are no look-alikes for this morel; especially since this species is only found after a forest fire. This morel is edible but, often, the sand and fire residue on the mushrooms make them of less commercial value.
Common name: Black morel.
Description: Morchella importuna is becoming an increasingly common morel appearing in the Midwest. It has a distinctive conical, or nearly so, cap which is 3-5 cm high, usually swollen at the base, attributing to its overall height up to 19 cm. The yellow (pale) pits are vertically arranged but are uniquely arranged with ladder-like crossridges. The ridges are bluntly rounded; gray/brown when immature and becoming sharp, black/dark brown upon maturity. The cap is attached to the stipe with a small groove that can measure up to 5 mm deep.
Ecology: M. importuna is a saprotroph and root endophyte. It fruits from March to May. This morel is typically found in the northwestern United States but is now appearing in the Midwest in landscaped sites, gardens and planters; often associated with mulch.
Research is ongoing to evaluate its cultivation potential because it is not mycorrhizal with trees.
Look-alikes: There are no look-alikes for this morel; especially since this species is one of the few, if not the only, species found in mulch, landscaped sites, gardens and planters.
previously Morchella semilibera
Common name: Half-free morel.
Description: Morchella punctipes has a cap, usually 1-4 cm high, which attaches about halfway down the stipe and flares away from the stipe in a skirt-like manner. The hollow cap is broadly conic with a round to blunt apex, divided into pits and vertical ridges with secondary shorter horizontal ridges. The whitish stipe is 3-15 cm high, nearly equal, enlarging downward and is hollow. The surface of the stipe is potted with mealy granules that may darken with age.
Ecology: M. punctipes is a saprotroph and root endophyte. It is found solitary or scattered in hardwood forests or old apple orchards generally appearing March through May and before the yellow morel. This species of half-free morel is found east of the Rockies; DNA analysis of western collections differs from M. punctipes as well as the European species, M. semilibera.
Look-alikes: Verpa bohemica and Verpa conica can be confused with M. punctipes. Verpa spp. have a cap perched only atop of the stipe so the sides hang completely free (click here for detailed information about Verpa species). Verpa spp. have a stipe at least partially “stuffed” with a soft, cottony tissue. Verpa spp. causes gastrointestinal distress in some people and is best considered inedible.
Possible allergic reactions and cautions: Although most people can safely consume cooked morels, a few become allergic, and a few experience gastrointestinal distress. All morels should be cooked thoroughly and never served raw, as cooking can destroy the gastro-irritant. The black morel, M. angusticeps, has been reported to cause stomach upsets when consumed with alcohol.
Various Morchella species myco-accumulate lead from 70-100 times, so attention must given to selecting clean picking sites. It is best to avoid areas near hiways, golf courses, and industrial sites. An article by Elinor and Efrat Shavit in Fungi (2010) found lead arsenate used in old apple orchards in northeastern U.S. to be a contributor to morel toxicity. Always remember to eat only clean mushrooms, free of decay.
Tips on harvesting: Morels should be cut with a knife near the soil surface and cleaned of detritus with a soft brush before placing in a basket. If the mushrooms are cleaned as they are harvested, it will keep dirt out of the pits of those morels previously collected. As with most fungi, morels should be stored in paper bags or waxed paper and refrigerated soon after harvest. Do not store morels in airtight plastic bags or containers; they will last longer if kept from drying out, but allowed to breathe.
There are several mushrooms which fruit at the same time as morels, and appear to vaguely look like morels. Click here for information on Verpa bohemica, Verpa conica, and Gyromitra spp. For example, Verpa bohemica, the wrinkled thimble cap, and to some extent Verpa conica, the smooth thimble cap, bear some resemblance to the half-free morel. They are easily distinguished, however, as Verpas have folds on the cap and all morels have pits. Further, the stalk of the half-free morel attaches to the base of the cap, half way up the cap, leaving half of the cap hanging free like a skirt. The stalks of the Verpas, however, attach right at the bottom of the top of the cap. Almost the entire cap hangs free, skirt-like. Verpa bohemicas can more easily be confused with Morchella punctipes than the smooth capped Verpa conicas. Compare the sectioned Verpa bohemica with stalk attached to the bottom of the top of the cap, to the sectioned Morchella punctipes with the stalk attached half way up the cap. Verpas are slightly poisonous and are not authorized for collecting and selling in Michigan.
|Cross-section of M. americana||Morchella angusticeps|
Bueg, M., Bessette, A, Bessette, Arlene. 2014. Ascomycete Fungi of North America: a mushroom reference guide.University of Texas Press. 488p.
Kuo M. 2005. Morels. Ann Arbor: Univ. Michigan Press. 205p.
Kuo, M., Dewsbury, D.R., O’Donnell, K., Carter, M.C.,Rehner, S.A., Moore, J.D., Monclavo, J.M., Canfield, S.A., Stephenson, S. L., Methven, A.S., Volk, T.J. 2012. Taxonomic revision of the true morels (Morchella) in Canada and the United States. Mycologia 104(5):1156-1177, doi:10.3852/11-375.
Kuo, M., Metheven, A. 2014. Mushrooms of the Midwest. University of Illinois Press. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield.
Rodgers, R. The Fungal Pharmacy. 2011. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA. pp. 287-291.
Shavit, Elinor and Efrat. 2010. Lead and arsenic in Morchella esculenta fruitbodies collected in lead arsenate contaminated apple orchards in northeastern United States: A preliminary study. Fungi3(2):11-18.
Michael W. Beug. Poisonous and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Kuo, M. (2012, November) The Morchellaceae: True morels and verpas.