What Are Morel Mushrooms (Morchella esculenta)?


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These tasty wild mushrooms are well known for their hefty price tag, as they are prized by restaurants, farmers markets, and mushroom hunters. However, they only grow in the wild, making this popular mushroom even rarer and more of a delicacy.

Morels are most easily identified by their wrinkled, elongated, or bulbous cap that resembles a honeycomb, with hollow pits that form an irregular pattern. The interior of the morel is hollow and white with a slightly bumpy texture.

Morchella esculenta is known by many names:

  • Morels
  • Common morels
  • True morels
  • Yellow morels
  • Morel mushroom
  • Sponge morels
  • Elfin saddles
  • Molly Moocher
  • Muggins
  • Snakeheads
  • Haystack
  • Dryland fish

Morchella species are diverse, and scientists can’t seem to agree on how many varieties and subspecies there are. But they are delicious and prized among the culinary community, and for good reason, too!

Fast Facts About the Morel Mushroom

  • These fungi can be found in heavily wooded areas in the United States and Canada. They can be found on or near dying or dead wood. They especially like rich black or sandy soil, and thrive under apple trees in apple orchards.
  • Early in the season, morels can be found on the south and west-facing slopes, where they can catch warmer sunlight. Later in the season, you can also find them on north and east-facing slopes.
  • In most regions, they start growing in early spring, between March and June. However, the growing season may start later in higher elevations and northern regions.
  • Many poisonous mushrooms resemble the morel mushroom, making proper identification for foragers important.

Why are Morels so Expensive?

Despite their popularity, morels are elusive, their global demand far exceeding their supply. In addition, a single pound of fresh morels can cost a minimum of $20 dollars, while a pound of dried ones can cost more than 5 times as much.

  • Nearly impossible to cultivate – unlike farmed mushrooms you usually see at the grocery store (such as crimini, oyster, and portobello mushrooms), morels only grow in the wild due to the complex symbiotic relationship the mycelia have with trees. This relationship is almost impossible to replicate.
    • The sheer labor going into foraging, including traveling a great distance and putting in a lot of effort to find the wild mushrooms, costs a great deal.
    • When you consider how much work foragers put in to harvest them and bring them to your local farmers market or favorite restaurant, their hefty price isn’t so surprising. Every fresh morel you see has been foraged by hand.
  • Short growing season – morel mushrooms only grow for three months in early to late spring (between March and June in most regions). However, they can begin growing in the spring and sprout even into the fall in warmer climates.
  • Highly perishable – most morels bought worldwide are dried, as dried morels are better preserved and can easily travel long distances between countries. Fresh morels, which you can sometimes find at your local farmers market (depending on where you live), perish quickly and don’t travel well. This is mostly due to their hollow interior.
  • Taste – the morel mushroom has a unique flavor that makes for an incredible culinary experience. Their flavor is nutty and rich without being overpowering, and its texture is tender yet meaty. Because of its flavor and rarity, the morel mushroom is considered a delicacy worldwide.

How do I Identify Morel Mushrooms?


Morel mushrooms come in a wide range of colors. The morel’s cap can be white, cream, yellow, tan, reddish brown, brown, dark brown, gray, and black. Often the edges of the honeycomb lattice on the cap’s exterior are lighter in color than the inside of the pits.


The stem can be short or long and is usually white or cream regardless of the cap’s color. In most Morchella species, the stem is much shorter than the cap. The stem joints and ends at the bottom of the cap and doesn’t continue into the hollow area inside the cap.


Easily distinguished by their corrugated exterior that resembles a honeycomb, morel mushrooms’ caps can be elongated, bulbous, or both.

The inside of the morel mushroom’s cap is hollow and white, with a slight texture that resembles goosebumps (the hollow cap is important for identifying a true morel from a false morel).

Morel mushrooms can grow quite large, with one morel sometimes measuring larger than an adult person’s hand.


Because they are not closely related to other edible wild mushrooms, morels don’t have gills or pores. Instead, they develop their pores inside their hollow caps and distribute the spores through puffs.

Spore Print

The spore print of a morel will be pale orange or ochre, depending on the species.


Morel mushrooms prefer sandy or black soil that are rich with nutrients. They won’t grow in soil with high clay content. They can be found near rivers and streams and grow near or on dead or dying trees. The types of trees can include fir, alder, pine, oak, chestnut, olive, and ash trees, among others.

Morel mushrooms also thrive under the trees in old apple orchards.

An interesting fact about morels is that they can often be found growing after a recent forest fire, usually during the growing season following a summer fire.


The growing season for morel mushrooms depends on the region but is generally in the spring between March and June. In colder regions, they sprout later on in the spring.

Are there Different Kinds of Morel Mushrooms?

While there are dozens of edible morel species in the genus Morchella, a few kinds of morel mushrooms are listed as follows:

  • Yellow morels / Gray morels / Common morels (Morchella esculenta)
  • Black morels (M. elata; M. conica) – the black morel is known by several scientific names because each were once errantly classified as new species.
  • Blushing morels (M. rufobrunnea)
  • Half-free morels (M. punctipes) – also called the Half-Free Morel due to how the bottom of its cap slightly extends below the top of the stem like the hem of a skirt. Another common name is the Peckerhead mushroom.

Do Morel Mushrooms have any Lookalikes?

Beware of false morels, which include several species that resemble morels – many of these species are very poisonous.

False morels – a term that encapsulates many species of poisonous mushrooms – look very similar to true morels and are the main reason why it is so important to have an experienced guide when mushroom hunting.

If you are unsure about whether you have true or false morels, slice the mushroom in half lengthwise and inspect the insides. A true morel will always be hollow and not have any substances inside of it.

Eating false morels can cause severe illness or even death. For example, the following false morels have caused many human deaths when foraged due to their similar appearance habitat as true morels.

Lethal Lookalikes

  • Gyromitra esculenta – also called the beefsteak morel, red mushroom, or the lorchel, this poisonous false morel has a few key qualities that can help you identify it from its edible lookalike.
    • This false morel is reddish brown, with a lumpy, lopsided cap that resembles a brain rather than a honeycomb.
    • Its toxicity ranges greatly depending on where it grows. For example, scientists have found that gyromitra growing in Eastern Europe is far more toxic than those growing in North America, though all of its varieties are poisonous to humans.
  • Verpa bohemica also called the early morel or the wrinkled thimble cap, verpa are the false morels that most closely resemble true morels. They can be cream, yellow, or brown with a similar honeycomb exterior as a true morel.
    • Because of its similar appearance, the best way to identify this poisonous species from a true morel is by cutting it in half lengthwise.
    • When sliced, you’ll find that the verpa’s stem will extend to the top of the cap with the top flaring over like a skirt on top of the stem. The stem will also be filled with a white, fluffy material similar to cotton.
  • Hellvella spp.this species similarly resembles the gyromitra, with red, wrinkled caps. Their lobes are usually smoother than gyromitra, though they still resemble a brain and don’t have the pits and ridges that true morel mushrooms have.

Where Can I Find Morel Mushrooms?

Morels grow in wooded regions in the US, Canada, and Europe with black or sandy soil, especially around old apple orchards and sites of recent forest fires.

They grow from the ground in areas near rivers and streams with a lot of moist organic decay, such as decomposing wood or leaf litter.

How Do Morels Mushrooms Grow?

Morels are sac fungi, due to their hollow caps, and grow individually in a patch rather than other wild species that may grow in clusters or brackets. They are one of the few species that grow in the spring.

Can I Cultivate Morels Myself?

While there has been some success with small scale morel farming, commercially cultivating morel mushrooms is not possible. Part of what makes the morel so expensive is how it can only grow in the wild.

When can I Find Wild Morels?

Morel season varies slightly depending on your region. They usually start to grow in the spring. When determining when to go mushroom hunting, check if leaves are budding on deciduous trees. If so, the temperatures are probably hospitable enough for morels to start growing.

Are Morels Nutritious?

Morel mushrooms are indeed loaded with nutrients. They are rich in vitamin d, as well as iron, copper, phosphate, manganese, zinc, folate, and vitamins e and b6 – though the nutritional value is dependent upon the soil from which they grow.

Are There Any Risks Associated with Eating Morel Mushrooms?

It would be best if you never ate morels raw. Raw morel mushrooms contain small amounts of hydrazine, a toxin that can cause gastrointestinal distress. Cooking the morels removes this toxin and makes them safe to eat.

As with all edible wild mushrooms, cook morel mushrooms before eating. Even mushrooms with very little toxicity can cause distress when eaten raw.

What Do Morels Taste Like?

The flavor of this wild mushroom is quite unique, having been described as having a rich, nutty flavor not unlike grilled meats. Make sure to choose a recipe that is simple so as not to mask this delicious fungus.

How Do I Cook Morels?

If you are lucky enough to get your hands on some fresh morels, there are many recipes available to help you find the best way to cook this delectable fungus. They can be cooked in butter and are an excellent addition to pasta dishes.

As with most edible fungi, butter helps enhance the mushroom’s natural flavor.

There are also many ways to use them dried. It is always a great option to chop them up and add them to rice dishes, like risotto or pasta dishes. It’s important to cook morels before eating fully.

To reconstitute dried morels, soak them for 45 minutes in warm water. Soaking them in cold water may take them longer to rehydrate. For extra seasoning, you can even soak them in salt water. Then they are ready for cooking. Add a little butter and pair with asparagus over a bed of rice for a healthy, flavorful recipe.

When cooking morels, make sure not to choose ingredients that overwhelm or mask their natural nutty taste. They don’t need much seasoning – salt and pepper are usually sufficient.

How Do I Preserve Morels?

Because of their hollow insides, fresh morels decompose quickly. Beginners and serious foragers alike know the importance of morel preservation.


Freshly foraged morels will remain in good condition for up to a week when stored in the refrigerator. Wrap them in dry paper towels before storing them in a paper bag.


To dry morels, they should be sliced in half, soaked in water for about 30 minutes to get rid of dirt or bugs and string them together. Next, please place them in a cool, dry environment for about three weeks or until fully dried. They can then be stored indefinitely or until you are ready for cooking.

Where Can I Buy or Find Morels?

If morel mushrooms are available in your region, you can find many online foragers’ groups and join other mushroom hunters on a morel hunt.

If you prefer to buy them, you can always find dried morels online that are sold in sealed, air-tight packages. Depending on the season and your region, you might find them at your local farmer’s market or on the menu at many upscale restaurants.