Looking to start hunting morel mushrooms and worried about poisonous look a likes? In this article we’ll cover the top poison mushrooms that look like morel mushrooms, how to avoid them, and how to become a true morel hunter.
False Morel Mushroom Identification Quick Check
False morels can quickly be identified using one of these two checks. Do both to be sure.
- Cut the mushroom in half lengthwise. Is the stem and cap solid? It’s not a morel mushroom.
- Is the cap free floating (i.e. it hangs away from the stem)? If the base of the cap isn’t solidly attached to the stem it’s not a morel.
The above quick check won’t tell you if it’s poisonous or not. For that we need to look at the four most common morel look alikes.
Morel Look Alikes and False Morels
Gyromitra Spp. (e.g. Gyromitra esculenta, Gyromitra korfii,Gyromitra gigas)
- POTENTIALLY POISONOUS – Different gyromitra species (e.g. Gyromitra esculenta) various amounts of the gyromitrin toxin. The more gyromitrin, the more severe cases of poisoning. Gyromitrin hydrolyzes to monomethylhydrazine which is the cause of the poisoning and leads to various symptoms – nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and in severe cases death (1).
- A study of mushroom poisonings in the US found that less than 1% were due to gyromitra species (2). Few cases result in death. However, extreme care should be taken with this genus, especially since it’s not as tasty as true morel mushrooms.
- Many different species
- More red than a morel
- Wider than tall
- Solid stem and cap – always cut potential morels in half lengthwise to check! This is the easiest way along with free floating caps to identify false morels. Solid inside is white and spongey.
Wrinkled Thimble Cap (Verpa Bohemica)
- Questionable poisonousness – Some eat Verpa bohemica without a problem. Others eat it and get sick. Produces small amount of the gyromitrin toxin.
- Not much flavor in Verpa bohemica – best to avoid this one.
- Looks more like the ridges of a brain and less like the more squared ridges of the true morel
- Soft ridges
- Solid stem and cap – cut in half lengthwise. This is the surefire way to tell Verpa bohemica apart from true morels
Thimble Morel (Verpa Conica)
- Not intensely poisonous – may cause stomach cramps
- Very loosely ridged cap on this wild mushroom
- Cap is free floating and doesn’t connect to stem
- Stem is way longer than cap – true morels are usually the reverse with a long cap and short stem
Half-free Morel (Morchella Semilibera)
- Not Poisonous
- Similar to Black Morels (black ridges, honey comb cap) wild mushrooms
- Cap does not connect directly to stem. There’s a small skirt or gap.
How To Identify True Morels (The Edible Mushroom of the genus morchella)
True morels have the following characteristics. Be sure to confirm them all when morel hunting.
- Brown, Black or Yellow ridges (if a black morchella – Morchella elata or yellow morel – Morchella Esculenta)
- Hollow stem and hollow cap – Cut the whole morel in half lengthwise. It should be hollow from the bottom of the stem to the top of the cap
- The base of the cap is attached to the stem. Some of the false morels have a floating cap. Think of ear lobes that attach to the neck rather than hanging down. The morel cap attaches like attached ear lobs.
- The surface of the morel cap is ridged and pitted.
- Mushrooms fruit in the spring from February through June. If you find one out of season it could be a false morel.
- Morels like to grow near trees such as apple trees, elms, or ashes.
- The cap is often, but not always, longer than the stem.
When Is Morel Mushroom Season?
True morel mushroom season is in the spring from February through June.