Today I decided to go for a walk on my property a little ways north of the house and have a look for black morels in my favorite spot. This time last year we found many pounds of the famous land fish on our land and I am hoping to harvest a bounty again this year. Being that a friend wants the heads up this time to guide an elderly couple in their late 80’s into a nice easy pick I am being a little more vigilant in finding them as they first emerge. So far no luck. This year is a lot later spring than last, being more like the common years. Perhaps wetter too and the morels have yet to pop.
What I did find is a bit concerning though, right in my favorite morel spot was a nice fresh batch of false morels. Now the variety I found looks to be snowbank false morels and can be considered choice as well but it has very close relatives that are deadly poison. They are so close in appearance that I cannot tell them apart and most pickers will tell you it is not worth the risk.
False morels are a type of helvella, they are chambered internally rather than being just a hollow cap and stalk like a true morel. There are five false morels in North America that are similar to true morels; the poisonous conifer false morel, the choice snowbank false morel, the poisonous gabled false morel and the thick-stocked false morel. The fact that these are all so similar makes it not worth seeking the snowbank false morel but if you are familiar with what true morels look like there will be little doubt when you are in the field picking.
Both the true and false morels have a brainy look but you will find that the true morels grow taller in a cone-like shape, have a large hollow void in the cap as well as a hollow stem instead of the smaller, randomly chambered caps of the false morel. The false ones also tend to have a squatter, flatter shape than the true morels. Another difference I see where I am is that the true morels will be a blackish dark or yellow/tan colour while the false morels I see are a reddish brown or almost orange colour. To me there is no mistaking the one for the other, the true black morel is pictured here below.
A most important note that should be heard by all whom wish to hunt those wonderfully allusive morels is if you are not sure about what you are doing or looking at don’t eat them. You can take a sample to an expert for identification or to look through your own field guides but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms in case you have a reaction or touch your mouth and food. It really is best to be safe than sorry. ~Scott