Morchella – The morel, a worldwide favourite

This mushroom is a favourite right around the world.   Most people in Western Australia are completely unaware of it, however.  I have found it in quite a few situations, but nothing quite compared with the crops that emerged from pine bark mulch next to a limestone wall at Golden Bay, to the south of Perth over a period of 3 years.  There were thousands of them. They are always quoted as a spring mushroom, but I found these large crops in mid-winter (June/July).

I didn’t get photographs of the outcropping, unfortunately as it was before digital cameras were an everyday item.  But I did get this one picture of a single specimen. (see edit below) There is a better image of one on this site.

And, just in case you don’t believe the  numbers of morels that I picked, here is a jar full of dried ones.   BTW, if drying morels, do it as fast as possible to prevent any other organisms taking hold.

I have found a single morel growing in the karri forest right next to my place, and they are reported as being common in Spring through the jarrah forests of the SW.  They are not uncommon in suburban Perth, and friends have shown me examples cropping up in their back yards.

It is quite easy to culture these from a piece of the inside of the hollow stem, using standard techniques.   The ones I have cultures like this have been very vigorous growers.  However, moving  from culture to fruiting body is not a simple task and has defeated many highly skilled mycologists, as well as me.

I have eaten a lot of these, my favourite recipe being morels stuffed with crab meat cooked in a cream sauce.  The only problem I found was that it was almost impossible to wash the sand out of the crenulations.  WA is a sandy place.  To be perfectly honest, though I find them to be pleasant to eat, I can’t understand the frenzy that they induce in places like the US, in May.

When I had a lot of them, I tried to sell some to restaurants around Perth.  Most of them had never seen a morel!

Note: June 2011. The morels in the picture above have been identified as Morchella rufobrunnea, by DNA matching through the assistance of morel expert Philippe Clowez. This appears to be the first record of this species in Australia. Previous specimens have come from Mexico, Israel, The Canary Isands. The habitat where these were found is remarkably similar to that described for the other specimens, even down to the presence of olive trees in one case. The unusual timing of the fruiting appears to be another feature in common with the overseas versions. Thank you Philippe.

Edit 1 Sept 2015:  With thanks to correspondent Oscar, I was able to collect more specimens of Morchella rufobrunnea from pinebark mulch in Joondalup a Perth suburb last weekend.  This was exactly the same sort of substrate that I found them in before.   I am very grateful to Oscar for alerting me to these as I have been on the lookout for them for 14 years since my first find.   Here is a picture of a cluster of them together with the lump of and bark and soil that they were growing from.

IMG_0157morelsmall

The lump of bark and soil appears to be stuck together with mycelium in much the same way as the stonemaker fungus, Polyporus tuberaster.  The association with pine bark mulch is interesting as this species is reported to be associated with pine forests.  Just how they come to be associated with the mulch is a mystery though.  They appear to be saprobic rather than mycorrhizal in this case.  Since the advent of Facebook mushroom interest groups it has been possible to establish that these are also widespread in SA, VIC and NSW too. They occur over a very wide time range, from June right through to October.

Here is a picture of some as they occurred on the mulch.

morchellaruffoonbark

Another type of morel that occurs in Western Australia comes up in forests after fire.   I have encountered these in burnt karri forest in large numbers though they are also reported to occur in burnt jarrah forest.  These are reported to be Morchella elata by the local mycologists. Here are a couple of images of them.

Morchella elata lantern1

Morchella3

From these two images, it can be seen that the morphology changes widely. The second one looks very much like M. importuna, a mulch-growing species from the US.

More recent work has suggested that there are two fire morels in WA, one of which is identified as Morchella septimelata and the other is yet to be named.  A recent revision by Richard et al. renames M. septimelata as the earlier described M. eximia. This is of worldwide distribution and genetically identical specimens have been reported from Wyoming.  A specimen collected in 2016 by the author has been confirmed as M. eximia by DNA analysis. Fire morels occur in August and September.

There is another morel that occurs in NSW and Victoria in forests that have not been subjected to fire.  It was recently (2014) identified as Morchella australiana.  I don’t believe that this has been recorded from Western Australia at this stage (though it would perhaps be nice if they did).  It appears that this is the only morel that can be described as native to Australia.

People have been collecting morels that are not associated with fire  from the forests in Victoria for a long time.  Perhaps these are the Morchella australiana referred to above.   Below is a picture of a basket of them kindly provided by a friend.   You can see the black edges on them which seem to be a feature of these ones.

Victorian forest morels

Victorian forest morels

In Tasmania, Karen Stott & Caroline Mohammed have investigated native morels as part of a RIRDC project, “Specialty Mushroom Production Systems: Maitake and Morels”, available online.  They have identified a number of species that are shown below in a picture from their publication. They also address the cultivation of these fungi.  It would not be surprising to find similar species in WA, or perhaps a re-classification of some of the M. elata that are currently reported here.

 

tasmanian morels

In South Australia, people are reporting a morel with black edges.  One report says that these can be found on remnant sand dunes with sclerophyll forest.  Here is a picture of one from South Australia with kind permission from Yannick Foubert.

yannick-morel

There are many more morels in the US than we have here.  Debbie Viess who has been kind enough to comment in this blog has a rather nice summary together with some information on some of the different species.

23 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Phillip Myer said,

    Very curious about finding morels in Perth area. Will be relocating there in March 2012, and one thing I will greatly miss leaving The USA, was an avid mushroom hunter in Missouri and Kansas and will miss it dearly.

    • 2

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Phillip,

      There are certainly morels in the Perth area but you will have to search them out. I suggest that you search in areas where pine bark has been placed as mulch and look at the end of June and during July when the rains are at their peak. Good luck!

  2. 3

    Left Hand said,

    Nice find.
    Paul Stamets has a few tips on getting morels to fruit in his book Mycelium Running. Think it involves putting woodchip and sawdust spawn into an old firepit.
    There was also some research done in australia into developing an industry of french black morels.
    Conducted by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (govt funded i believe). Anyway the report is here if you’re interested.
    https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/98-044.pdf

    I don’t suppose you’d still have any morel cultures would you?

    • 4

      morrie2 said,

      Hi,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I have had morel cultures going quite a few times. It is a very vigorous growing thing. That was more than a decade ago though. My partner also tried to import one of Stammets’ cultures as a birthday present years ago but of course it was stopped by AQIS. They had a never-ending review of such imports and I gave up following the progress on it. This contrasts with New Zealand.

      I have tried Stammets’ general approach without sucess. I have a feeling that lime is involved somewhere, as fire ash is high in lime and alkaline and I have found them growing where people have been mixing cement, also high in lime and alkaline. Even the big find was on limestone sand.

      I purchased the RIRDC report many years ago. As I recall, they didn’t really get too far with generating fruit. Recently Phillipe Clowez sent me a lovely monograph on morels of the world that he published as a Bulletin on of the Mycological Society of France. It contains detailed descriptions of all the known species with colour plates. A lovely thing. There are a lot of species and only an expert can tell them apart mostly.

      I don’t have any cultures remaining, but if I find some I will certainly attempt to get some going and let you know.

      Cheers,

      Morrie

  3. 5

    Left Hand said,

    I think i may have located someone with a culture🙂
    Even had a look in google maps for limestone walls near Golden Bay lol
    I think only Mills has grown morels successfully. People are still trying to figure it out. Be great to have tubs like these though:

  4. 6

    Clark Nielsen said,

    Hi Morrie

    I am a North American transplant and miss morels immensely. Fried up with a nice steak, nothing much better.

    Was hoping you could let me know if you run across any morels popping up this coming season. I’d love to get some and cook em up. I would also like to try and culture them because i have a mulch pile in my backyard and would like to try and innoculate the detritus. Alternatively, if you had dried ones you’d be willing to part with i could culture the spores and use this to innoculate the vegetation.

    thanx

    Clark

    • 7

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Clark,

      Which State are you living in? If you are in WA, you can buy dried morels here.

      Culturing them is another thing altogether, as you may be aware. A very hit and miss exercise.

      While most morels pop up in Spring, there are some that come up in urban areas in July/August, at the peak of the rainy season in WA. These are often associated with pine bark mulch of the type used in new suburb developments. But they come up elsewhere, seemingly at random.

      One thing about morels is that most Australians are completely unaware of them. It is only a select group who know what they are looking at when they see one. So that gives you a bit of an advantage. They are more widely known in Victoria than in WA and I believe that they might even be sold there in markets.

      I hope that is of some help,

      Happy hunting,

      Morrie

  5. 8

    Clark Nielsen said,

    Hey Morrie

    I’m in WA, in fact i only live about 5 minutes from the place you provided the link for, thanx. If one has viable spores, morel fungus is actually fairly easy to culture, pretty aggressive. On an agar plate with some sucrose it will grown at ~1 cm/day, which is much faster than most other fungi. The crux as you know is getting them to fruit. :o) i just want to innoculate some mulch and see what happens. I’ll also be trolling the area come this rainy season for morels.

    Again, thanx for the tips!

    Clark

  6. 9

    Aqualina said,

    Hi,

    We recently found one after a huge amount of rain at the beginning of August.

    It was in Jarrah Bark and was very large.

    Great to see they are starting to grow so well in WA as they are yummy.

    Thanks

    • 10

      morrie2 said,

      That’s very interesting. I haven’t seen any growing in jarrah bark. Was it in a place where there had been a fire, or was this bark mulch? Fire morels grow in massive numbers in both Karri and Jarrah forest. I think that they have probably been growing in WA for a very long time, although there may be some species that have been introduced more recently. I’d be interested to see a photo if you took one and if you can upload it to a host and provide a link.

  7. 11

    fehro said,

    Trying to find Morels in Perth. The Grocer in Claremont is now wholesale only. Any other places I can buy these? I miss these so much from my French cooking when I lived over there!!!

    • 12

      morrie2 said,

      I’m sorry but I don’t know of any other place that stocks dried morels in Perth. They can be bought online from the Eastern States in small quantities when they are in stock. Fresh ones can similarly be bought online from the East and these are used by the restaurant trade in Perth. I am not sure about the rules and regulations for bringing them into the State.

  8. 13

    Oscar said,

    Hey I am a Spaniard mushroom hunter and after 3 yeas in Australia I wonder why people just think about magic mushrooms when talking about mushrooms… Today, after work I found more than 200 morels sitting in the margin of a road, and collect a few just because there are delicious back home and very hard to find.

    Just wondering whether you know the species in the picture and if its edible? I am drying a few of them just in case… Were found near Joondalup (north Perth) in a mulch area

    (not able to upload a picture.. sorry..

    • 14

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Oscar,

      I know exactly what you are talking about. I get that all the time about the magic mushrooms. I can almost guarantee that the words ‘magic mushroom’ will be mentioned in the first sentence when the topic is brought up. I think it is partly because we have no culture of eating wild mushrooms here in Australia so anyone interested in mushrooms is considered odd and probably into drugs.

      The ones that you have found are almost certainly Morchella rufobrunnea, which is the same sort that I have mentioned in my blog. Usually they come up a little bit earlier in the year, but it has been an unusual year this year and there has not been so much rain. They tend to come up in the new suburbs in pine bark mulch. They are edible, but they must be cooked. This species is being cultivated in the US. I found that the ones that I dried made me sick though so take care with that. I am not sure why that was. Perhaps I didn’t dry them fast enough and they got some secondary organism growing on them.

      If you still have some fresh ones, I would like to get a spore print. That requires putting them on some waxed paper or alfoil and leaving them overnight. The spores are a light yellow colour.

      Cheers,

      Morrie

  9. 15

    Gretchen said,

    Last winter/spring I saw an interesting looking mushroom growing from a bed of gravel in my front yard. I took a photo, but have since lost it, nor do I remember the exact time of the find. I only recently thought to look through “Fungi of the Perth region and beyond” to identify it, and believe it to be a morel. Can I be confident in my identification or do lookalikes exist around Perth?

    How would I encourage more of them to grow? I have found some US-based sites that suggest things like putting morel wash water and woodash around your garden. Do you have any tips based on your knowledge of morels in WA? Also, I am in the Mandurah area quite frequently, would it be worthwhile making a visit to golden bay over the next few weeks or is it too late in the year?

    • 16

      morrie2 said,

      Hello Gretchen,

      My apologies for not replying earlier – I was having trouble using my iPad with the site.

      I am not aware of any look-alikes to the morel in Perth.

      I have visited Golden Bay quite a few times over the years and have never found any more morels there. (I did pick some olives though which I pickled and have in my fridge). I was in Perth last weekend where I found some more morels growing from Pine Bark again, so I would suggest that you keep an eye out on sandy areas which have been mulched with pine bark.

      I can’t really recommend a method to encourage morels to grow in your garden. In America there are many more species than we get here. I believe that Morchella rufobrunnea is the only one that you are likely to find in your garden and apart from using pine bark mulch, I can’t really suggest any way to encourage them.

      If I can get these ones into culture I may be able to supply some spawn in the future, though there is not guarantee that I will be successful or that the spawn will work.

      I wish you luck in finding some.

      Cheers,

      Morrie

  10. 17

    gibbo said,

    Hi
    just out of interest have you tried the post fire (elata) species in Australia?
    The reason I ask is that many chefs ive spoken to would rather import morels than buy local ones which they report as bland much like our native Chants.
    I was wondering whether elata might be a candidate for culinary merit if perhaps rubo and australiana dont quite stack up?

    • 18

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Gibbo,

      Yep I have found them to be underwhelming, as has my local culinary guru.
      The M. Ruffobrunnea were better, though still not great IMO.

      Morrie

  11. 19

    Tony Hill said,

    Hi
    I have just found some of these (or something very similar) growing in the small 3mm gap between my limestone wall and my pavers around my pool. I have some pine bark nearby but nothing shows there. I have a photo if you are interested. These are quite small and now and so I will see if they grow a bit more.

  12. 21

    Jenny said,

    Hi,
    I live in Ocean Reef. I put in some mushroom compost in our garden bed and some mushrooms have sprouted. They look like morels but I have never foraged for mushrooms and am not 100% sure if edible so I have put them to the side for drying until I can confirm.
    Not sure,how I can send you the photos.

    • 22

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Jenny,

      You can put the pictures on a photo host like Photobucket and then get the link from there and post it here.

      Cheers,

      Morrie


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