Morels: Elusive, Delicious, Really Frickin’ Weird

by Jennifer Frazer on May 12, 2010

The mushroom fairies (and my buds in the Colorado Mycological Society) were good to me this week. Behold: the elusive Morchella esculenta

I forded a creek in the arms of a burly, bespectacled man to bring you this photo, dear readers. I go the extra mile for you.

These guys are not easy to find, particularly here in Colorado. They come up for about two weeks a year, and only under cottonwoods (and sometimes old apple trees). Finding land on which you can search among cottonwoods is difficult in the highly developed urban corridor, and then there are so many cottonwoods which have . . . nothing. We searched two major areas before we found these in a third. These are the first yellow morels (M. esculenta) I’ve found in Colorado, though you can chase the black morels (M. angusticeps) up the mountains through June.

Morels are in the major fungal group called Ascomycetes, one of four or five major divisions. They are called so because they bear their spores in sacs called asci. (that’s ass-eye, not ask-ee). Each of those fascinating pits on the head of the morel is lined with thousands if not millions of sausage-shaped sacs and other thin sterile fibers called paraphyses (pa-raf’-a-sees). Here’s what morel asci and paraphyses look like:

The asci and ascospores of morels. Image by Peter G. Werner, Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 Unported. Click for link.

There are eight spores per sac because meiosis, or sexual cell division, produces four spores, and then they all divide again asexually to make eight spores. Some asci have pores at the tip through which the spores are actually shot out like a gun. Others have little lids called opercula (singlular: operculum). Here’s what morels look like when they’re shooting spores like crazy (you only need to watch the first 30 seconds or so to get the idea although there are some nice closeups later on):

Morels are the most meat-like non-meat object I know of. Cooked in butter, they taste of either steak or bacon to me. This deliciousness is reflected in their price: At Whole Foods in Boulder, you’ll pay $25-50 per pound fresh. I like to cook them with garlic and butter and a little salt, then add a splash of sherry at the last minute. The great thing about morels is they are hollow, which means you can stuff them! And look how beautiful they are in cross section — check out all the different colors and textures — particularly of that little guy in the lower left.

These are also called "land fish" in some parts of Kentucky. Can you see why?

That’s a fairly unusual cross-section for a morel, and it should remind you of something else. More on that soon.

{ 1 trackback }

Tweets that mention Morels: Elusive, Delicious, Really Frickin’ Weird --
May 12, 2010 at 10:19 pm

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy May 13, 2010 at 7:51 am

what a cliffhanger… ;)

(BTW – a lot of your pictures aren’t showing up on the feed, in Google Reader. The embedded video *did* show up, though. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it but I thought I’d let you know. This is important to me because your page is blocked for me at work due to “lack of categorization.” I don’t even know what that means, but the corporate firewall rules my life.)

Jennifer Frazer May 13, 2010 at 8:40 am

That is weird. I checked my reader (Google Reader) and all the pictures show up fine. Is anyone else having this problem?

fennucci May 13, 2010 at 9:35 am

amazing! I’ll be out this weekend after it stops raining, should be a ton of morels popping up soon, nice article~!

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Previous post:

Next post: