This Sunday, May 20, at 2 pm, Madison Mycological Society will be meeting at Stephens Falls parking lot at Governor Dodge State Park for our first foray, the First Annual Morel Foray. Add your name or find a ride on our carpooling list. Each vehicle requires an admission ticket to enter Wisconsin state parks. If you don’t have one, an annual sticker ($28) or daily pass ($8) can be bought at the entrance to the park.
Spring was late to come this year, and morels were as well. They should be at or approaching their peak this Sunday, especially given the consistent nightly downpours and warm weather.
Morels (genus Morchella) are fascinating and beautiful mushrooms. The most common in these parts, Morchella esculentoides, which has grayish ridges and darkish pits, becoming more yellow in maturity, is what you are likely to find. It appears almost anywhere with trees, but is most commonly found under dead and dying American elms and living white and green ash trees. Morchella cryptica is morphologically indistinguishable from M. esculentoides, but a phylogenetically distinct species. Short of sequencing, we will have to settle for the M. esculentoides determination for most finds.
For more information about morels, I highly recommend you read Michael Kuo’s entry on Mushroom Expert. He is one of the leading experts on this group and offers a very approachable description on his excellent website.
There are toxic morel “look-alikes,” but honestly they only look alike if one has neglected to learn basic traits of the mushroom and failed to make simple observations. Species belonging to the genera Verpa and Gyromitra might be confused, but one can distinguish morels by the fact that they are completely hollow (geode-like) without any whispy or cottony material, are not brain-like in appearance but rather have ridges and dimples, and have caps that are mostly or completely attached to the stem.
Other “edible” fungi that you are likely to find are Cerioporus squamosus (Dryad’s Saddle), Pleurocybella porrigens (Angel Wings), and jelly fungi like Auricularia auricula (Jelly Ear), Exidia recisa (Amber Jelly), and Exidia glandulosa (Black Jelly Brain). While Jelly Ear is commonly cultivated and eaten, especially in Asian cuisines, their isn’t much value to the others, and Angel Wings might be toxic, especially to those with kidney disorders. If you make something tasty, though, let me know.
As a reminder, we are here to share and teach, but what you decide to eat is ultimately your responsibility. We must emphasize that you should be 100% confident about your identification, otherwise the consequences can be grave. With some basic training and common sense, though, morel hunting is very safe and extremely rewarding. Everyone’s a mycologist when it’s morel season.