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Do Morels have look alikes? Easily tell the Real Morels from the False Morels by learning a few simple tricks. Identify the top 4 poisonous Morel look alikes.
While there are over 80 different species of the Morchella clade (Morel) you can easily come into contact with many different looking Morels while out foraging. This can seem confusing to the beginning Morel mushroom hunter.
No need to worry though…
After reading this article you will be able to easily tell the difference between a true morel and a false morel. The good news is that it is actually really easy to tell the difference once you know what to look for.
The 2 major defining characteristics to tell the different between a real morel and a false morel is:
- It is completely hollow on the inside.
- It has a pitted, sponge like cap.
Now let’s take a look at the true morel and then we will look at the 4 poisonous mushrooms that look like true morels that can be confused with the real morel. The true morels vs false morels…
Real Morels or True Morels
The real or true morel is a true delicacy and is a choice edible mushroom that can sell for $20 fresh by the pound during the spring season. Let’s see what it looks like…
1) Morel (Morchella)
One of the most popular morels is the Morchella esculenta (AKA Yellow Morel). The true Morel will have pitted honey-comb like ridges to an almost sponge like cap and will be completely hollow on the inside like in the picture above.
It can come in a variety of colors to include:
You will also notice their cap is attached to the stem at the base of the cap while being completely hollow from stem to cap. You will also typically find them to be longer rather than they are wide.
To learn more about identifying the top 3 types of Morel mushrooms (black morels, yellow morels and half-free morels), then check out another article we wrote here:
Now let’s look take a look at the 4 poisonous false morels…
4 Poisonous False Morel Mushrooms
There are 4 poisonous false morel mushrooms that you need to be aware of when you go hunting for morels. Let’s start it off with the early false morel…
1) Early False Morel (Verpa Bohemica)
You’ll notice the edge of its helmet-like cap hanging freely over the stem, much like the cap of a half free morel. While some people eat the half-free morel without problem, this one is poisonous and you do not want eating false morels because they contain the same toxin found in the deadly false morel called gyromitrin.
It does contain smaller amounts of this toxin, however because it is present it can cause:
- Stomach cramps
But if consumed in large amounts could cause:
While some people have collected it and consumed it without problem, others have suffered illness after consuming it.
They have a smooth and sometimes wrinkled, brown cap which hangs over their stems. A cottony tissue fills the stem’s interior which doesn’t completely appear hollow as with all other true morels. However, when it ages it may get hollow looking.
It gets the name of ‘Early False Morel’ because this morel mushrooms grows a week or two before the time of year that real morels start to grow in Spring.
The cap of the verpa could be confused with the cap of the half-free morel however if you look at the picture below you will see the verpa bohemica’s cap sits like an umbrella while the half free still resembles the hollow center of the true morel’s cap while still having a little bit hanging over at the stem.
Now let’s take a look at the other verpa, the verpa conica…
2) Bell Morel (Verpa Conica)
This one is similar to the verpa bohemica in that the cap will sit like an umbrella shown in the picture compared to the half-free morel previously.
The main difference with this on is that it MAY BE hollow on the inside even when young where as the verpa bohemica has the cottony material on the inside while young.
2 other distinguishing characteristics of this one are:
- That cap is typically smaller with a much longer stem.
- The cap wont have the pitted honey-comb appearance of the true morel.
The cap’s outer appearance will actually resemble that more of the style cap of the deadly false morel mushrooms.
Little information is available on whether this one is edible however I would take precaution since it is a verpa and the other verpas are shown to have small amounts of toxin gyromitrin.
Now let’s take a look at the deadly false morel mushrooms…
3) Deadly False Morel (Gyromitra Esculenta)
The Gryomitra genus has over 15 different gyromitra species with the gryomitra esculenta being the most popular however the gyromitra caroliniana is popular in the United States. This is one mushroom that is VERY poisonous and contains the toxin gyromitrin. When eating false morels like these will cause the following within a few hours:
Later, you will experience:
Eventually leading to coma and death after 5-7 days!
Some people claim that if you cook these that they can turn into an edible mushroom however it’s not 100% confirmed if that actually removes all the toxins.
The biggest way to know if you come across the Gyromitra Esculenta is they are not hollow on the inside when cut in half (like in the picture above).
Now, let’s take a look at the stinkhorn…
4) Morel vs Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)
** The stinkhorn is NOT poisonous but sure looks like it should be when it is covered in slime…So I put it under this category **
The Stinkhorn morel is also another false variety, but one you may not have to worry too much about. This is because they appear in the fall and tend to have a distinctive, foul-smelling slime covering the cap. These goo-covered morel look-alikes attract insects & bugs and some mushroom hunters collect their eggs and cook them up as novelties.
After the flies eat all the slime that covers the cap it will actually have a spongy appearance and will resemble that (somewhat) of a true Morel. The easiest way to identify this one is by the bad smell.
Despite it’s foul order it is not poisonous and many people in France and Germany choose to eat them. I chose to add it to this list because based on the way it looks and smells you would sure think it was poisonous…but it’s not.
Conclusion on Good vs Bad Morel Mushrooms
Now you should be able to easily tell the difference between the real morel vs false morel. You can see that it is very easy to distinguish the true morel from it’s look alikes.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when hunting for the Morel is that:
- It will be 100% hollow on the inside to include the cap all the way down the stem.
- It will have a pitted honey-comb type of cap that does NOT sit like an umbrella on the stem.
If it doesn’t have these things then you do NOT want to eat them because you could literally be dead by the next week if you do.
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