Wednesday, April 27, 2011

False Morels

This blob-like, brain-like, fungus is a False Morel in the genus Gyromitra. There are several mushrooms within this genus and all are referred to as false morels. They also go by many other common names, such as Red morel, beefsteak, brain mushroom, glob mushroom, and redheads. 
They have well developed stems, and their oddly shaped caps are generally reddish brown to yellowish brown. When sliced open, they are not completely hollow--and this is the best way to distinguish them from the morels, which are hollow.

Many people eat these mushrooms with no ill effects, but studies are showing that others have severe reactions to eating these mushrooms, and in some cases death could result. Other reactions to consuming these mushrooms could be dizziness, nausea, and coordination problems. In southern Missouri these are eaten regularly with Yellow Morels and are considered quite tasty. Perhaps certain people have built up immunities to the toxins within these mushrooms. Perhaps they are just lucky. Perhaps their bodies are just able to consume them and not suffer for it. I for one would not want to chance it. I would rather err on the side of caution and live another day...or at the very least, not spend days suffering ill effects from a potentially poisonous mushroom. 

“There are old mushroom eaters and there are bold mushroom eaters, but there are no old bold mushroom eaters”

The one pictured here is very large, it measures nearly 9 inches tall, and 6 or 7 inches in diameter. The base is 4 or 5 inches in diameter. I believe it is Gyromitra esculenta. Which generally fruits near conifer trees. It is referred to as beef steak morel in some areas and is consumed after special preparation. There have also been confirmed fatalities. Some of the toxin is removed by boiling multiple times in water and discarding the water. Reportedly cooks have been poisoned simply from breathing the steam. One of its toxins is monomethylhydrazine (MMH) which has been used in rocket fuel. It is available canned and dried from Finland and probably other countries as well. 

So what's the problem? One danger is the varying levels of MMH in different poisonous mushrooms. Some species contain very little, others contain enough to kill. MMH levels also vary among geographic regions within a single species. The point is nobody knows how toxic any false morel will be in any location. MMH is a cumulative toxin. This means that its levels will build up in your body after repeated consumption. This could lead to illness or even death. Keep that in mind the next time someone insists to you that they've safely eaten these poisonous mushrooms.

Most appear in the spring and summer and grow directly on the ground. Although some are found on wood or later in the year, they are unlikely to be mistaken for true morels. Caps are usually brown or reddish brown and occasionally yellow. Most stems are a light color, ranging from white to tan. These mushrooms are considered saprotrophs, meaning they feed on dead and decaying organic matter. Some have suggested that they may be mycorrhizal as well (forming a symbiotic relationship with trees).
Like true morels, false ones are often found in areas where the forest floor has been disrupted. You're more likely to see them near washes, rivulets, man-made disturbances in the ground, and roadsides.

Make note of the cap shape. False morels have caps that are "wavy" or "lobed". They appear to be bulging outwards. True morels have a more uniformly shaped cap with pits or ridges. They appear to be pitted inwards rather than bulging.The cap of the false mushroom hangs freely from the stem. A true morel has a cap that will be attached to the stem. This is not always the case but more often than not it is.

Don’t eat any mushroom unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure that it is safe!
You should never eat any mushroom unless it is positively identified as edible. If you are in any way uncertain about the edibility of a mushroom, don’t try it. If in doubt, throw it out!
While morels are easily identified, other species of safe mushrooms have deadly look-a-likes. If you are just starting to collect and eat wild mushrooms, don’t rely on books or websites alone for your information. Go hiking with experienced experts, who can show you how to identify the important characteristics of edible and poisonous mushrooms.



  1. Thank you so much for the great pictures. Helped us identify the ones we just found,though ours looked more like thimble caps on steroids,the description of them being cut open really helped us in identifying them. Thanks N & J, Columbia, Mo

  2. how dare you kill those birds! what have they ever done to you!? please leave them alone and stop bothering them.they are just trying to find a place to live.i would NEVER kill any fact i would never kill any bird for that matter! FYI i just rescued one of there eggs.i am nine years old and i am going to open a bird sanctuary in my back stop murdering those birds you serial killer!

    1. First of all I have no idea why you posted this comment under my blog post on False Morel Mushrooms as they have nothing to do with sparrows or birds in any way. Second of all, it isn't a matter of whether or not these birds have done anything to me or not, it is a matter of what they do to other birds.
      1.) They take over nesting boxes of native birds which greatly reduces the places that native birds have to raise their young.
      2.) They will fly into bird houses and peck holes in the eggs of native birds killing them.They will also kill nestlings by pecking holes in their head.
      3.) They ARE NOT native, they are invasive and can have detrimental affects on our native wildlife, by spreading diseases, competing for food and nesting locations.
      4.) Non-native species ARE NOT afforded any protection under any laws. THEY DO NOT BELONG HERE!

      At 9 years of age you have a lot to learn about conservation and what is wrong or right where wildlife is concerned. I respect the fact that you love ALL birds, but you also need to understand that by saving house sparrows or starlings YOU are contributing to the death of chick-a-dees, bluebirds, wrens and many other wonderful songbird species that belong here!
      I commend you for wishing to open a rehabilitation clinic for birds and I hope your dream to do so happens one day, but I would suggest you concentrate on birds that belong here.
      I work as a volunteer for a wildlife rehab facility in KC and they DO NOT take in house sparrows, starlings or pigeons. It simply is not done or encouraged, but if your sensibilities won't allow you to do anything else then I say "More power to you" I would however refrain from calling people "Serial killers" because they do not subscribe to the same thought process as you. I will continue to remove house sparrow eggs from my bluebirds boxes and I will continue to discourage them from being in my yard. I prefer the bluebirds, wrens and chick-a-dees to house sparrows any day.
      Best of luck to you.

  3. the fact remains you are killing baby birds and that is wrong.

    1. Well you are certainly entitled to your opinion and far be it from to try and change it. I however will continue to create habitat that is friendly to native species and not encourage non-native species to take over. I have 86 acres and 4 acres of that is my backyard. I currently have Northern Mockingbirds, Chick-a-dees, American Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, Red-headed woodpeckers, Red-bellied woodpeckers, Downy woodpeckers, Hairy woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, Common Grackles, Tufted Titmouse, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks, House finches, Baltimore Orioles, Indigo buntings, Barn swallows, Pine Siskins, Brown creepers, and several species of warblers. I have this huge diversity of songbirds because I DO NOT allow house sparrows to take up residence here. Now if you prefer to encourage house sparrows that is fine, but they will out compete your local native birds and you will be left with little else but sparrows. What I am doing is legal and supported by many conservation groups across the country including the Audubon Society, so while you may see it as wrong; that is merely your opinion which isn't based on scientific facts, but rather on your heart. I am a huge animal lover, and belong to many organizations that help animals and currently rehab animals as a volunteer. So trust me when I say I do understand where you are coming from in your feelings, but you truly are too young to understand the ecology and conservation behind removing invasive species....whether it is plants or animals. Again I wish you the best of luck.

  4. just because its legal doesn't make it right. are you bird racist or something?if someone wasn't from america and they moved to america should we kill them? look really tough arguing with a nine year old.

    1. Sweety the difference between right and wrong seem to have eluded you when it comes to wildlife and as far as calling me a racist because I don't want house sparrows pushing out native birds only goes to show your lack of education on this subject matter and your total lack of maturity. I have not been "Arguing" with you I've been attempting to EDUCATE you, but I can see that is hopeless. I am curious though why you throw around words like racist and serial killer, don't you think those are harsh words that should be reserved for the context in which they are intended? As far as I am concerned this subject is closed, there is no reasoning with ignorance and as you pointed out you are only 9 so I am wasting my time. Best of luck to you.

  5. Sorry just saw this post.. 1)I'm one of those people who eat false morels but was trained that they have to look a very specific way which leads me to think that they might be a less dangerous cousin. The ones my family eats are all much more pitted inward. The ones we see that are pitted outward are not to be eaten, or if the color is a darker red hue, not eaten. Ps we eat lots of morels too so know the difference.

    Also on the above conversation with the 9 year old.. Doubt it was a kid at all, sounded more like an Internet troll. I'd have asked him/her if they ever ate anything with eggs in it?

  6. Thank you Shelly for all of your very accurate and informative articles. I am sorry to see your patience and persistence didn't pay off with the supposed 9 year old; however, all of the information you provided in your comments will still be of use to anyone who reads it. House Sparrows are incredibly invasive, as are Starlings. I don't allow them to nest on my property and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Support our native species! Whether plant or animal!

  7. Thank you Shelly for all of your very accurate and informative articles. I am sorry to see your patience and persistence didn't pay off with the supposed 9 year old; however, all of the information you provided in your comments will still be of use to anyone who reads it. House Sparrows are incredibly invasive, as are Starlings. I don't allow them to nest on my property and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Support our native species! Whether plant or animal!

  8. I have (and know personally at least three-dozen people who have) eaten "calf-brains" for years in Eastern Oregon with no ill-effects.
    But, I believe the calf-brain I am referring to is Gyromitra gigas not the dangerous Gyromitra esculenta that people (in certain circles) are freaking out about lately.
    I recall being told on my first mushroom hunt 25 years ago to not pick "that one" (referring to a Gyromitra esculenta, although no one I hunted with knew it by that name) but that the other calf-brains were good to eat.

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