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Yellow Morel (Morchella americana)

Good evening, friends,


I returned from my friend’s wedding (both bride and groom are long-time readers, congrats Miles and Rachel) with chronic dehydration and what’s beginning to feel like a respiratory infection. But that’s balanced out by the treat of a few morels that popped up around the preserve in the time I was gone. I also found morels in these two spots last spring, and while I wrote about a different morel species last year, today let’s focus on the most well-known species in the eastern US, the Yellow Morel (Morchella americana).


Yellow Morel
A little finger peeking in there top right.

Fun Facts


Morels might be the most culinarily coveted mushrooms second only to truffles. They’re considered choice edibles because of their earthy flavor and the ability of those nooks and crannies to soak up whatever fats and flavors with which you introduce them. However, morels did make the news last year when multiple people got sick - and sadly a few died - in two separate incidents that involved eating raw or undercooked morels. One in a sushi restaurant and the other on a camping trip. Make sure to cook your mushrooms well, folks, and make sure you’re certain of your identification.


With only three mushrooms this year, I figured it was best practice not to harvest any and let the insects have their pick of the bunch.
With only three mushrooms this year, I figured it was best practice not to harvest any and let the insects have their pick of the bunch.

Last year I found six to eight morels at each location on the preserve. This year, only three between the two sites. This study suggests that rain in the thirty days prior to growth is an important factor for the quantity of morels, while nearby vegetation - in this study specifically hickories (Carya), lindens/basswoods (Tilia americana), and American elms (Ulmus americanus) - can be linked to their appearance in general.


If you’re not busy two weekends from now, there’s the 64th Annual Morel Mushroom Festival in Boyne City, Michigan. The event culminates in a competitive morel hunt on Saturday so bring your sneakers. There was also a different Morelfest in Pennsylvania just a couple weeks ago - I’ll hopefully get out there next year.


When young,, these morels look grey - or white - but if you let them grow they’ll turn yellow and swell to two or three times the size.
When young,, these morels look grey - or white - but if you let them grow they’ll turn yellow and swell to two or three times the size.

Ecology


These fungi are not well understood, it’s not even clear whether they’re saprobes (decomposers) or mycorrhizal (symbiotic with trees) - and it’s possible they can be one or the other at different points of their lives. Personally, I’ve found morels around tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) and a dead apple tree. Ciara also found a yellow morel in the middle of a lawn, not close to any trees at all, so who knows.


The mushrooms pop up for a short time in spring - allegedly when soil temps are above 50 degrees F but have not yet reached 60 F. That translates to the last couple weeks in April and the first couple weeks in May in northeastern North America. If you want to follow an active map, this is a great resource.


A couple yellow morels from last year.
A couple yellow morels from last year.

One thing I noted was that one of the tulip trees that had morels was severely pruned the year summer before because precarious limbs hung over a building. My thinking is that if the morels are mycorrhizal, they sensed the tree was in trouble and they wanted to send spores elsewhere because that seems to be how burn morels operate too.


When there are large wildfires in the coniferous forests of western North America, the spring after those fires these charred woodlands produce copious amounts of morels. The idea behind these phenomenal fruitings is that the fungi lost their symbiotic partners, but hopefully the spores released from the mushroom will find living trees elsewhere. This would also make sense why I found them around a dead apple tree.


From the same fruiting last year as the picture above. This year this site only produced one morel.
From the same fruiting last year as the picture above. This year this site only produced one morel.

The taxonomy is a mess. M. americana was renamed from Morchella esculentoides which was originally split from the European M. esculenta. To further complicate things, now there are several genetically distinct but physically similar sub-species under M. americana that are categorized as Mes-1, Mes-2, and so on for as many as they find (iNaturalist goes as high as Mes-18).


There are also other species of morels in the northeast besides these yellow morels. I’d like to find the black morels (Morchella angusticeps, they usually pop up a couple weeks before the yellow morels) or the half-free morel (Morchella punctipes) - if not this year then hopefully next.


A nice flush of pheasant’s back (Cerioporus squamosus) on an old, stately tulip that I found while looking for morels.
A nice flush of pheasant’s back (Cerioporus squamosus) on an old, stately tulip that I found while looking for morels.

The woods are busy - even if you don’t find morels there are tons of spring flowers and other fungi to find.


Get out there,

Aubrey


References:

  1. Mihail JD, Bruhn JN, Bonello P. Spatial and temporal patterns of morel fruiting. Mycol Res. 2007 Mar;111(Pt 3):339-46. doi: 10.1016/j.mycres.2007.01.007. Epub 2007 Jan 23. PMID: 17363234.

  2. Kuo, M. (2012, November). Morchella esculentoides. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/morchella_esculentoides.html.

  3. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/yellow-morel-common-morel

  4. https://www.fungikingdom.net/fungi-photos/ascomycota-division/morchella-americana1020.html

  5. https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/things-to-do/morels/morel-identification

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