Elite life



   Species in the genus Gyromitra vary widely in appearance. Some species are cup-shaped and have rudimentary stems. Other species are more familiar, especially to morel hunters, and these mushrooms are often collectively referred to as the "false morels." 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. This is an important distinction, since false morels are poisonous, and none of them should be eaten.


False Morel, Brain Mushroom, Beefsteak Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)

   Gyromitra esculenta is a beautiful springtime mushroom frequently found by morel hunters in northern and western areas of the continent. It can be distinguished from other false morels by its brainlike, reddish brown, irregular cap, and by the fact that its stem is not massive in proportion to its cap. In dry weather conditions, these mushrooms can blacken and dry up and last for an amazingly long time on the forest floor. Found in spring, primarily under conifers; widely distributed in northern and montane North America.
   Cap 3-11 cm across, brain-like, irregularly rounded, and somewhat flattened; reddish brown or darker, yellowish brown in some forms; sometimes almost smooth, but generally intricately wrinkled and folded but not pitted. Stem 20-50 x 15-40 mm, stuffed becoming hollow in chambers, equal or expanded at either end; pale flesh-colored; smooth or faintly grooved. Flesh thin and brittle. Spores ellipsoid, smooth, containing 2 or more yellowish oil droplets, 18-22 x 9-13 μm.

Elfin Saddle (Gyromitra infula)

   This mushroom occurs in late summer and fall--not in the spring, when the other Gyromitras can be found (in coastal California, however, it fruits in winter and spring). Its broadly lobed cap is usually pinched into two lobes, creating a saddle-shaped appearance. Its color is extremely variable. The West Coast version of Gyromitra infula tends to get larger than its eastern counterpart, and seems more prone to 3-lobed and odd-ball manifestations. Additionally, this western mushroom is sometimes found growing terrestrially, while the eastern version is almost always found growing on wood. Found on the ground and on rotting wood; widely distributed in North America.
   Cap: 3-12 cm; occasionally cup-shaped when young, becoming lobed with two prominently raised lobes (rarely with 3 or 4 lobes); not brainlike; color extremely variable (tan to yellowish brown to reddish brown to dark brown); underside paler, sometimes ingrown with stem where contact occurs.

  Flesh: Thin and brittle; insubstantial or chambered.
   Stem: 1-12 cm; not ribbed; colored like the cap or paler, frequently whitish.
   Microscopic Features: Spores 17-23 x 7-10 μm; oblong to elliptical; with two large oil droplets, including a blunt apiculus at each end.

Big Red, Beefsteak Mushroom (Gyromitra caroliniana)

   This springtime false morel is common in the south, and in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. Despite the fact that it is consumed by many, this mushroom is not a safe edible. Gyromitra caroliniana can be distinguished from other Gyromitra mushrooms by its geographic range, its large, white stem, its heavily stuffed and chambered interior, and its cap, which is reddish brown and rather tightly stuck to the stem. The cap surface varies from almost brainlike to nearly "pitted and ridged," like Morels. When sliced open, Gyromitra carolinia specimens often feature chambered flesh near the cap surface that is reminiscent of broccoli spears. Found under hardwoods in spring; widely distributed in eastern North America from Kansas to the East Coast, but especially common in the south and in the Mississippi and Ohio watersheds. The northern edge of its range appears to be the southern Great Lakes.
   Cap: 5-10 cm; variable in shape but generally tightly affixed; brainlike to pitted and ridged; reddish brown; underside paler, ingrown with stem where contact occurs.
   Flesh: Whitish or flushed rose; brittle; chambered; without a central cavity.
   Stem: 6-10 cm long; pale tan to pure white; large, sometimes massive; smooth; sometimes discoloring grayish on handling.
   Microscopic Features: Spores 30-32.5 x 11.5-14 μm; with 1 large oil droplet and 2-3 smaller ones.

Snow Morel (Gyromitra montana)

   Solitary, scattered, to gregarious in soil, humus, occasionally with rotting wood, under conifers, near melting snowbanks; found at higher elevations of the Sierra and presumably also Coast Range; fruiting during the spring.
   Pileus: ap 5-10 cm broad, 4.0-7.0 cm tall, fertile surface convoluted, folded, rarely lobed; margin irregular, incurved, closely pressed or fused to the stipe; surface yellowish-brown, hazel-brown, to dull reddish-brown in age; sterile undersurface whitish; context thin, 1.0-2.0 mm thick, brittle; odor and taste not distinctive.
   Stipe: Stipe short, stout, 2.0-8.0 cm tall, 3.0-7.0 cm thick; surface whitish, grooved to folded, the latter manifested in cross-section by longitudinal passages.
   Spores: Spores 25.0-35.0 x 12.0-16.0 μm, elliptical, smooth, some with thickened ends (apiculi), possessing a single, large central oil droplet.


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