Description: There are at least three species of morels in Missouri. All are hollow-stemmed mushrooms emerging from the ground in spring to early summer, with a somewhat conical cap/head covered with definite pits and ridges, resembling a sponge, pinecone, or honeycomb. In black and yellow morels, the bottom of the head is attached directly to the stem. In half-free morels, the bottom half of the cap hangs free from the stalk. In all cases, the stem of true morels is hollow.
Look-alikes: Don’t confuse true morels (Morchella spp.) with false morels (Gyromitra spp.), which can kill you. Don’t eat any wild mushroom unless you’ve identified it as a safe edible and have cooked it thoroughly.
Size: Height: 2–12 inches.
Habitat and conservation: Morels are found on the ground in a variety of habitats, including moist woodlands and in river bottoms. They are often associated with ash trees, dying elms, and apple trees, although they are found elsewhere as well, under both hardwoods and conifers. The fruiting bodies (mushrooms) grow out of the ground in late March and in April. They are common but notoriously hard to locate against the forest floor.
Distribution in Missouri: Statewide.
Status: Morels are considered choice edible mushrooms. As with all wild mushrooms, be sure of your identifications, and always cook them.
Life cycle: Morels exist most of the time underground as a network of cells (mycelium) connected to tree roots, rotting material, and the soil. In late March, the mycelium sends up the thing we recognize as a morel aboveground. This structure is a way for the fungus to reproduce; spores are produced and released from the spongelike part. The mycelium of a morel can live for decades.
Human connections: As wild edibles, morels are treasured both for their delectable flavor and for the fun of the hunt.
Ecosystem connections: Many animals relish morels, from deer and squirrels to the tiny insects that we rinse off before cooking. Belowground, morels form symbiotic relationships with roots of many trees, helping them get nutrients. As saprophytes, morels decompose dead leaves and wood, helping them return to the soil.
For recipes for morel mushrooms visit: http://mdc.mo.gov/node/18921