False Morels

2019 May 19

Sandy and I were walking in the pine woods behind the house on May 17, 2019 when we saw a number of these kind of lumpy, fungal masses:


They were pretty big and substantial, as you can see comparing this one to Sandy’s hand.


Their interior was more or less solidly filled, with no particular structure.


In general, they were not terribly appetizing-looking,

but we thought that they were either some type of morel, or some other fungus that is easily mistaken for a morel.

The reason this matters, is that Michigan is known for morels, a family of mushrooms. Some morel species are particularly tasty, and they have the added advantage that they don’t look much like other mushrooms. This makes them safer than usual to eat, because the odds of mixing up the edible ones with something toxic are minimal, at least if you know what you are looking for.

So, we have this pamphlet, “May is Morel Month in Michigan”, published by the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service, that has pictures and descriptions of the various morels found in Michigan, along with the few species that are not morels but that could be confused with them. Looking through this pamphlet, these turn out not to be one of the true morels, but rather are one of the “false morels” that look broadly similar and occur in the same habitats.

Specifically, they look like Gyromitra gigas, which is also variously known as “Snow Morels”, “Calf Brain”, and “Bull Nose”. Aside from the appearance, the description says that they occur “as soon as snow begins to melt” (Check!) and are found “near edge of puddles or melting snowbanks; in mixed conifer and hardwood stands” (Check!)

Unfortunately, while they aren’t dangerously toxic, they apparently aren’t particularly tasty either. The pamphlet just says “good for eating”, which is the lowest rank that they give for edibility (the real morels get rated as “Excellent” or “Choice”). Between that, and the fact that the ones we found were looking kind of dried out, we decided to leave them in the woods.

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