Worcestershire Record No. 16 April 2004 pp. 31-32

THE YEAR OF THE MOREL?

John Meiklejohn

Pictures by Martyn Hodgson

It has been a number of years since I have had so many reports of sightings of Morel fungi. The Morels, like Chanterelles and Truffles, are real gourmet species much in demand for the hotel trade. Their season of April/May means that they can be found outside the usual late autumn fungus foray time.

As a group, their unusual form makes them easily recognisable but there are several barely distinguishable species of uncertain limits. The species in the genus Morchella have been given a variety of specific names, differing in different field guides.

Here in South Worcestershire both Morchella esculenta and the similar M. vulgaris have been found in gardens, on roadside verges and waste land, the latter growing on bark chippings too. A fine specimen of M. esculenta with a cap diameter of 130 mms. made a very tasty dish! They vary much in size.

Another Morel which appeared in great numbers in open woodland on Bredon Hill limestone was the distinctive Mitrophora semilibera. The lower half of the more conical shaped cap of this species is free from its taller stipe. It is not worth eating.

As with all fungi, beware! There is a slightly similarly shaped but dark reddish-brown coloured fungus, Gyromitra esculenta, which is poisonous.

NOTES

The Worcestershire morel Spring started with the following email from Martyn Hodgson describing their appearance in his garden in Evesham, and comments from subsequent correspondence.

29th March 2004. Attached are six jpg images of two morels that appeared in Eleanorís play area over the weekend. The area was created last year by removing the plants that had been there and covering it with bark chipping bought from the local DIY store. I've no idea where they sourced the bark chippings, but I guess they may be from overseas. One of the pictures includes a ruler for scale. Both fruits are about 40mm high. Looking in my fungi book, Morchella esculenta looks a good bet, but they do look very small. However, looking round the net, you can find a bewildering range of images purporting to be M.esculenta. I wonder if the ones we have are not fully developed yet?

Reply 6th April 2004. John Meiklejohn has studied your pictures and concludes as follows: Morchella vulgaris also known as Morchella esculenta var vulgaris! Differs from "true" esculenta in that the ridges have more rounded edges and it's generally smaller. M esculenta 6-20 cms, M vulgaris 5-12 cms.

Further information 25th May 2004. I am still unsure as to their original source. The area on which they grew had been flower beds for about 7 years until Spring 2003. That Spring we converted the area into a play area for Eleanor and covered it with bark chips from the local DIY store. Thus, Spring 2004 was the first Spring in which the area had been clear of vegetation and hadn't been (lightly) forked over for quite a long time. I don't know how quickly Morels grow and spread, but in the end five fruiting bodies appeared over an area of about 3 square metres. When the area was flower beds the only mulch applied for some years was Tiddesley Wood bark chips. So, it could be that the source of the Morels was quite close to home!

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