"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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True Morels and False Morels--How to Tell the Difference
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Early finds of morels--though smallish--were recorded last week in the southern part of the state, but that vanguard of gastronomic delight leaves no doubt that the spring mushroom season is here. 

Anyhow, my calendar says April 1 and that, alone, is enough to make it so. 

There is plenty of moisture in the woodland floors now, so all we need are some bright sunshiny days and humid nights. 

Having established the fact that morel time is here, the next issue for many morellers may revolve around the possibility that someone may be confused separating morels from false morels. 

The problem here (as I see it) lies in the fact that various segments of the media (including some mycological experts) have never held a false morel in their hot little hands. It may be good that these folks urge morel hunters to be cautious about the mushrooms they pick and eat. But I fear this may discourage some mushroom hunters unjustifiably. 

Sure, you want to be cautious about fungi that you eat, but anyone who thinks a false morel even remotely resembles a true morel had better schedule an appointment with his friendly eye doctor. There is little resemblance between the two. 

There are several false morel species, also called the brain mushroom because its cap looks somewhat like the human brain. They are said to be poisonous--especially raw--but I have eaten the species we call the elephant ear and know of many other people who have consumed this species. Still, I would have to be pretty hungry for mushrooms to eat that mushroom today. 

Be that as it is, there still is no way to confuse the false morels with the true morels. 

The false morel we see here most often is Gyromitra infula which usually occurs about the time the morel season shifts from small grays and blacks to big yellows (“yallers”). It usually is barn-red, or brown, but I have seen them with grayish or dark tan caps. Flesh of the cap is thin and brittle and the interior of the cap is made up of wrinkled chambers, not one open chamber like the true morels. 

In texture, the stem of the false morel is similar to the stem of some members of the true morel family, but here, again, it has many chambers while the stem of the true morels is open (not greatly unlike a soda straw), though usually larger. 

The exterior texture (the feel) of a false morel cap much reminds me of the wet back of a soft-shelled turtle. 

False morels may occur in many sizes. I have found and photographed species that were no more than an inch wide, but I have seen pictures of a false morel that was as large as a one-gallon paint bucket. 

Still, however large or small false morels may be, there is no need to fear them. Although I pick them only to be taken to a place that offers better light and surrounding for making pictures, I often get belly-flat and eyeball-to-eyeball with them just to see what they look like. 

The false morel is another of nature's wonders--to be celebrated . . . not feared. 

True Morel
False Morel


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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