True black morel mushrooms vs. false morel mushrooms
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How To Tell The Difference Between Real and False Morel Mushrooms

Save your stomach by knowing the difference between real morel mushrooms and toxic lookalikes.

Morel mushrooms are tasty spring treat that get's many people outside searching hillsides and pastures for these fresh treats.

But black morel mushrooms have four lookalikes, and three of them are considered toxic—so it's important to be able to tell the difference.

The good news: The three toxic wild mushrooms, Verpa Bohemica, Gyromitra, and Verpa conica, are pretty easy to tell apart from true morels. Meanwhile, half-free morels look like an ugly step-sibling to true morels, but they're not harmful for you to eat (just not particularly tasty).

So, before you start filling your bag with mushrooms, you'll want to learn the difference between a real and fake morel mushroom.

Here are the most common false morels.

Morel Mushrooms Top Lookalikes

1. Wrinkled Thimble Cap (Verpa Bohemica)

The Early False Morel (Verpa bohemica) is an edible mushroom , an intresting photo

Verpa Bohemica mushrooms are sometimes toxic—which is a chance we don't want to take. But luckily they only sort of look like morels. The confusion comes in their sort-of honeycomb cap, which is a trademark for true morels. But if you examine them, you can see the honeycomb has sharp ridges and a more wrinkled look, like a sheet or brain. Cut in half, these wild mushrooms are not hollow.

2. Gyromitrin

Gyromitra esculenta False morel, Calf brain, Bull nose mushroom in the forest.First spring mushrooms. Selective focus.

Gyromitrin mushrooms are also sometimes toxic, though usually just in small amounts. That means if you eat it in small quantities, the toxins can cause nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea. In large quantities, it can cause convulsions, jaundice, come, or even death.

This mushroom has the ridged caps of a true morel, but otherwise it's much wider than it is tall and its ridges don't look like a honeycomb. It's much redder than a true morel will ever be, and when you cut it in half, it's not hollow.

3. Thimble Morel or Bell Morel (Verpa Conica)

Verpa Conica bell morel mushrooms

Fred Stevens

Thimble Morels, in our opinion, look a lot like true morels. But they have very small, barely-visible ridges and a tiny cap. Moreover, these wild mushrooms have a skirt- or umbrella-like cap attachment.

Warning: The stem here is hollow, just like a true morel. But the cap doesn't flow seamlessly into the stem but instead sits more underneath it.

4. Half-Free Morels (Morchella Semilibera, M. Punctipes, M. Populiphila)

Half-free morels (Morchella vulgaris)

Half-free morels (Morchella vulgaris), Morchellaceae. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Half-Free Morels are the closest relative to true black morels and look a lot like them. Luckily, they're edible. They just don't taste great.

The main feature that sets them apart is that their cap looks like it's "half free". Also, the cap doesn't flow seamlessly into the stem but instead tucks under. Usually, Half-Free Morels also have a really long stem compared to a true morel.

How to Tell Real Morel Mushrooms from Fakes

morel mushrooms growing in the forest

1. Look At the Cap

False Morels

  • Irregular, "squished" shape
  • Outward bulges
  • Wave shape
  • Hangs freely off the stem

Real Morels

  • Uniform shape
  • Pitted inwards
  • Covered in pits and ridges
  • Attached directly to the stem

2. Examine the Stem

Real morels have a hollow stem. Also, their overall shape is typically longer than they are wide.

False morels have a solid stem, and are often (but not always) wider than long.

3. Check the Color

Real morels are usually a light tan, brown, or grey-black color. They're almost never in the red spectrum.

False morels can be reddish brown or yellow.

4. Smell It

Real morels smell distinctly earthy.

False morels sometimes have a slightly sweet smell, or none at all.

5. Slice It in Half

False Morels are solid, not hollow, and are filled with cotton-like white fibers.

Real Morels are hollow from the tip of the cap to the bottom of the stem.

6. When In Doubt, Skip It

If you still aren't sure that the wild mushroom in your hand is a real morel mushroom, leave it. False morels can be extremely toxic and the risk of poisoning is not worth the potential of a fresh mushroom.

Keep this in mind before you head out morel mushroom hunting next month.

Read More: Watch The Life Cycle of a Morel Mushroom In 1 Minute