Headed out mushroom hunting tonight!! First time!
There are at least three species of morels in Missouri. All are hollow-stemmed mushrooms emerging from the ground in the spring, 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 stems of true morels are completely 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 through 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 develops the thing we recognize as a morel. This structure a reproductive structure. Spores are produced and released from pits in the spongelike cap. Some morel hunters have witnessed morels "smoking" as they release millions of spores.
Human connections:Most people think of morels when they hear the words "wild mushrooms." The morel's short season, good camouflage, and delectability leads some to keep "their" morel spots a secret. Morels are treasured for their delicious flavor and the fun of the hunt, often a family tradition spanning generations.
Ecosystem connections:Belowground, morels form symbiotic relationships with the roots of trees, helping them get nutrients. As saprophytes, morels decompose dead leaves and wood, returning nutrients to the soil.