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Half Fee Morel Mushroom Morchella Semilibera
Half-free morel mushroom
Morchella semilibera, commonly called the half-free morel, is an edible species of fungus in the family Morchellaceae native to Europe and Asia.
DNA analysis has shown that the half-free morels, which appear nearly identical on a macroscopic scale, are a cryptic species complex, consisting of at least three geographically isolated species. Because de Candolle originally described the species based on specimens from Europe, the scientific name M. semilibera should be restricted to the European species. In 2012, Morchella populiphila was described from western North America, while Peck's 1903 species name Morchella punctipes was reaffirmed for eastern North American half-free morels. M. semilibera and the other half-free morels are closely related to the black morels (M. elata and others).
A proposal has been made to conserve the name Morchella semilibera against several earlier synonyms, including Phallus crassipes, P. gigas and P. undosus. These names, sanctioned by Elias Magnus Fries, have since been shown to be the same species as M. semilibera.
Some parts of the United States have been enjoying morel season for weeks now, but itï¾’s just getting started here in the Mid-Atlantic states. Last weekend (on Earth Day, in fact), there were very few fresh mushrooms and the majority of those were the Half-Free Morel. Half-Free Morels tend to be the first morels to appear, so morel season seems to be proceeding normally (if a bit late) despite the erratic weather in March. Although Iï¾’d never found the Half-Free Morel before, it was instantly recognizable. Like the other true morels, it has a ridged and pitted cap as well as a hollow stipe. Unlike the other true morels, only half of the cap attaches to the stipe and the bottom half of the cap hangs down over the stipe. This distinctive morphology gives the mushroom its common name, the ï¾“Half-Free Morel.ï¾”
Unlike most other morels, the Half-Free Morels usually have a stipe that is significantly longer than the cap when fully grown. In young specimens, the stipe is about as large as the cap and is mostly hidden underneath the cap. By maturity, however, the stipe grows 1.5-15cm tall while the cap grows 2-5cm tall. Because the stipe tends to be so much longer, Half-Free Morels are often called ï¾“Peckerhead Morelsï¾” in the American Midwest.Morchella punctipes
The Half-Free Morels are true morels; they have a cap featuring ridges and pits as well as a hollow stipe.
The cap of a Half-Free Morel is roughly conical but sometimes is almost dome-shaped. At the bottom of the cap, the capï¾’s width is about equal to its height. The outer surface of the cap, which produces spores, is composed of a network of ridges and pits. Most of the ridges run vertically, although the pattern tends to become a bit more honeycombed toward the top of the cap. Young Half-Free Morels have tannish ridges and whitish pits. As the mushrooms mature, the ridges become dark brown to black and the pits become yellowish to brownish. Throughout its development, the Half-Free Morelï¾’s cap attaches to the stipe about halfway down; the bottom of the cap hangs down over the top of the stipe in a skirt-like fashion.
Half-Free Morels produce whitish to light brownish stipes that are roughly cylindrical. Under warm and wet conditions, the stipe often enlarges at the base and can develop vertical wrinkles. The surface of the stipe is usually gritty and covered with tiny points. These points are usually the same color as the stipe but can become darker brown as the mushroom ages. In some specimens, the points are absent and the stipe is smooth. When you cut the mushroom in half from top to bottom, you find it is hollow. Like the other true morels, the Ha
f-Free Morel has a single large hollow chamber that runs from the top of the cap all the way down to the base of the stipe.
According to DNA evidence, there are actually two species of Half-Free Morel in North America: Morchella punctipes and Morchella populiphila. Until 2011, both of these species went by the name Morchella semilibera, which was determined to occur in only Europe. The two North American species are morphologically identical but do not grow in the same parts of the continent: M. punctipes appears only east of the Rocky Mountains while M. populiphila grows in Northwestern North America.Morchella punctipes cap
The Half-Free Morels have ridges that are primarily vertical.
Both M. punctipes and M. populiphila emerge in the early spring, from March to May (depending on the local climate and recent weather conditions). M. punctipes grows on the ground in mixed hardwood forests while M. populiphila ï¾– as its scientific name implies ï¾– grows on the ground under black cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa) and prefers areas near rivers. Mycologists still arenï¾’t sure where morels get their energy, so their relationship with the nearby trees is uncertain. It seems most likely that morels form mycorrhizas and decompose plant material at different points in their life cycle.
Black morels (such as Morchella angusticeps, FFF#140) are the mushrooms that most closely resemble Half-Free Morels. Both of these morels have darker ridges and lighter pits. Young Half-Free Morels can also look like yellow morels (such as Morchella esculentoides, FFF#086) thanks to their yellowish-brown colors. Differentiating between other morels and the Half-Free Morel is easy because only the Half-Free Morels have a cap that hangs down over the stipe.Morchella punctipes overhang
The Half-Free Morel has a cap that hangs down over its stipe. Many of the morelï¾’s dangerous lookalikes also display this feature. (The top of this mushroom was eaten off by an animal. Normally, the cap would be conical.)
Verpas (FFF#067) are also similar but their ridges and pits are less well defined and the cap is attached only at the very tip of the stipe. Additionally, verpas have stipes that are not hollow but instead filled with cottony material.
False morels (see FFF#034 and FFF#209) are yet another morphological group that can look like the Half-Free Morel. False morels are attached to the cap at the top of the stipe or at multiple points along the stipe, so the cap usually hangs down over the upper part of the stipe. Unlike the Half-Free Morel, false morels have poorly defined wrinkles on their caps and have stipes that are solid or chambered.
The Half-Free Morels are choice edibles but ï¾– like nearly all mushrooms ï¾– must be cooked first. Half-Free Morels arenï¾’t quite as good as the yellow and black morels, but they are still worth eating. Morels tend to work best in buttery or creamy dishes and can add flavor to many different foods.
False morels are poisonous and verpas might be poisonous, so always double-check your collections before eating anything. The easiest feature to check is the stipe: in the Half-Free Morel, it is hollow inside while the poisonous lookalikes have solid, chambered, or cottony stipe interiors.
Half-Free Morels belong to the genus Morchella, which includes all true morels.
Division (Phylum) Ascomycota
Subdivision (Subphylum) Pezizomycotina
Species Morchella populiphila M. Kuo, M.C. Carter & J.D. Moore
Morchella punctipes Peck
Morchella semilibera DC.