Fungi Fun: Morels

Black Morel (Morcella elata)

 

It is still early in the year for most mushrooms and toadstools. One family that relishes springtime is the Morel family. They are Ascomycetes dispersing their spores by shooting them through a tube, an ascus.

They have caps with a distinctive honeycomb appearance. Currently the subject of extensive research and DNA sequencing it is difficult to say how many species there are.

A good site was Ainsdale Sand Dunes Nature Reserve before the trees were removed to encourage the natural dune system. A few diminishing pockets still hang on.

One such species is Morcella elata, the Black Morel, collected and identified by local mycologists. Specimens have recently undergone DNA sequencing at Kew. The specimens sequenced matched Morchella purpurascens (Purple Morel). So records had to be revised. But as you see from the different colours in the photographs, both may be present. Further collections must be made.

Morcella elata
Black Morel (Morcella elata)
Purple Morel (Morchella purpurascens)
Purple Morel (Morchella purpurascens)

 

The more Common Morels are Morchella vulgaris and esculenta. They have taken a liking to woodchip. Some grew outside the office block at Court Hey Park. A more recent appearance was last year at Calderstones Park, in a flowerbed inside the mansion house where the Calder Stones are now kept. They can appear anywhere.

 

Morchella vulgaris
Morchella vulgaris 

 

 

Morels are a highly desirable and sought-after edible fungi, although the honeycomb provides convenient housing for slugs, woodlice and other creatures. They must be well cooked as they all contain various toxins.

Unfortunately there is also Gyromitra esculenta, the False Morel, that can easily be mistaken for the edible varieties. It also can be found at Ainsdale. A friend had a bank behind her cottage in Yorkshire that was covered with them. Fatal if eaten raw, it is undecided if this fungus is safe to eat even after cooking. A dangerous trap for the inexperienced forager.

 

False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)
False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)

 

By Tony Carter