Morel identification

There are poisonous mushrooms in Michigan.  If you do head out in search of morels, make sure you know how to identify them.

Pictured below are eight species of mushrooms, divided into two groups – the true morels (species of Verpa and Morchella) and the false morels (species of Gyromitra). The false morels, easily differentiated from the true morels, often are found at the same times and in many of the same places as the true morels. As a group, the false morels should be considered poisonous and left alone.

All species of Morchella found in Michigan have one characteristic in common: their caps (heads, tops) are pitted with little hollows, as if holes had been punched partway through them. The pattern of the pits varies from species to species, but all have the pits. Verpa and Gyromitra species may be ridged, wrinkled, waved or even quite smooth, but they do not have hole-like pits.

True morels

Verpa bohemica 

Earliest of the morels, usually appearing in late April before trees and shrubs have leafed out. Caps are dark brown and hang completely free of the stalk, like a skirt. Fruits in rich, moist soils, often along stream banks and swamp edges. Edible, but should be eaten with caution. A few people suffer symptoms akin to intoxication after eating this species in large amounts or for several days in a row.

drawing of Verpa bohemica

Verpa conica

Smaller than bohemica, and fruits a few days later. Caps hang free of the stalk. In most springs, conica is too scarce to be worth trying to collect for the table, but occasional large crops are found in forests of mixed conifers and hardwoods, under wild cherry trees and in old apple orchards. Edible.

 

Morchella semilibera

Commonly called the "half-free" morel because the cap is detached from the stalk about halfway down. Similar in color and general appearance to Morchella esculenta (see below) but smaller. Fruits abundantly about one year in three on moist humus in oak-hickory and beech-maple forests. Edible.

 

Morchella angusticeps

The popular "black morel," although color varies from gray in young specimens to almost black in older ones. Hollow cap attached to stalk at lower edge. Fruits in early to mid-May under aspen, birch and balsam fir, and occasionally under maple. Crop often peaks when serviceberry bushes are in full bloom. Edible and considered choice; however, cases of stomach upset have been recorded when this species was eaten in large quantities for several days in a row, or was consumed with alcoholic beverages, so be cautious.

Morchella angusticeps drawing

Morchella esculenta

The so-called “white morel,” often called "sponge mushroom." Color varies from light cream to yellowish-brown. Hollow cap attached to stalk at base. Perhaps the easiest of all edible spring mushrooms to recognize, and therefore widely collected. Fruits in the latter half of May. Found in a wide variety of habitats, including old orchards, beech-maple forests, oak woods, burned-over meadows and occasionally lawns. Look for this species when oak leaves are at the "mouse-ear" budding stage. Edible and choice.

Morchella esculenta drawing

Morchella crassipes

Largest of the morels; specimens weighing more than a pound have been verified. Closely resembles Morchella esculenta but is bigger. Fruits in late May to early June under oak, in beech-maple forests, old orchards and rich garden soil. A good place to hunt is around stumps and stubs of elm trees that have been dead for several years. Edible and choice. It takes only a few to make a meal.

Morchella crassipes drawing

False morels

Gyromitra species

Four species of Gyromitra (called Helvetia in some older guidebooks) are illustrated and discussed here because they are sometimes found growing with or close to the true morels. The amateur collector should consider all species of Gyromitra (false morels) to be poisonous and should leave them alone. A special problem in Michigan is G. esculenta, which is very abundant in some springs and has been collected and eaten by thousands of people. Some of those same people who had consumed this species safely for several years have suddenly suffered acute poisoning, and a few have died. Recent research has disclosed that G. esculenta contains a highly toxic substance which may or may not be destroyed by cooking the mushrooms. G. gigas is edible but can be confused with other, poisonous species of Gyromitra, so the amateur collector should avoid it. G. fastigiata and G. infula are definitely poisonous.

Gyromitra species drawing