Honeycombed cap with black to brownish black ridges and yellowish brown pits; completely hollow. April and early May. Cap elongate and conical, with vertically elongated ridges and pits; ridges are black to brownish black, pits are yellowish brown; texture deeply pitted; hollow; bottom of cap is fused to the stalk. Stalk sometimes enlarged at the base; whitish; texture granular; hollow. Spore print white to cream. Spores magnified are elliptical, smooth. Spores are located inside the pits.
Lookalikes: The poisonous false morels (Gyromitra brunnea and G. caroliniana) are reddish and have wrinkled, lobed, or brain-shaped caps and dense (not hollow) stalks. The bottom half of the cap of the half-free morel (Morchella punctipes) hangs free from the stalk. The cap of the yellow morel (Morchella esculentoides) has yellow to yellow-brown ridges and is more oval. All of Missouri's true morels are completely hollow.
Cap width: ½–1½ inches; cap height: ½–2 inches; stalk length: 2–4 inches; stalk width: ½–1½ inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Grows singly or in groups of up to many on the ground in deciduous woods, disturbed areas, and recently burned areas. They are found especially under white ash; also under tulip poplars, oak, and hickory. American morels have recently been reclassified using DNA studies. North American and European morels used to be considered the same species, but they have now been separated. This morel appears in most field guides as "Morchella elata," but that name now only applies to European species.
Morels are choice edible mushrooms. Simply put, morels are delicious! Recipes abound. Sauté them in butter or try them creamed. If you find a lot, you can dry them for later. A traditional way of preparing morels is to roll them in cracker crumbs or corn meal and deep-fry them. As with all wild mushrooms, be sure to cook them (don't eat them raw). It is a good idea to prep them by slicing them lengthwise and soaking them for a while in salted water. This should rid them of any insects.
Mushrooms exist most of the year as a network of cells (mycelium) penetrating the soil or rotting material. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops mushrooms, which produce spores that, once released, can begin new mycelia elsewhere. For at least part of its life cycle, this species is a saprobe, “eating” decaying materials such as dead leaves or wood. It also might be mycorrhizal, spending part of its cycle connected to tree roots in a relationship benefiting both tree and fungus.
Humans have eaten mushrooms for thousands of years. Morels are especially prized for their culinary value and are a favorite of mushroom hunters. Mushroom hunting is an exciting, fun, and rewarding hobby.
Fungi and their fruiting bodies, mushrooms, are part of our natural environment. Their importance in forest ecosystems is monumental. Some species help nourish forest trees through symbiosis, and others are wood rotters, breaking down dead trees to recycle back into the soil.
Mushrooms are a lot like plants, but they lack chlorophyll and have to take nutrients from other materials. Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They are in a different kingdom — the fungi. Fungi include the familiar mushroom-forming species, plus the yeasts, molds, smuts, and rusts.
Always be cautious when eating edible mushrooms. Be absolutely sure of the ID, and only eat a small amount the first time you try it to avoid a reaction..