Big Red False Morel

Gyromitra caroliniana

Giant_Red_False_Morels_4-10-19.jpg

Photo of two gigantic red false morels, cut and laying on a ground
The big red false morel belongs to a group of poisonous mushrooms. It grows singly or in groups in mixed woods.
Poisonous
Not recommended/not edible
Family

Discinaceae

Description

The big red false morel is reddish brown, with a convoluted, brainlike cap and a whitish stalk that is chambered inside. It grows singly or in groups in mixed woods. Late March–May. The cap is convoluted, brainlike, reddish brown outside, buffy tan inside; the cap margin is fused to the stalk; the interior is chambered. The stalk enlarges toward the base and is whitish, the texture grooved to smooth; it is chambered inside (not hollow). The spore print is clear to white. Spores magnified are elliptical, smooth.

Lookalikes: Gabled false morel (Gyromitra brunnea) is more lobed and saddle-shaped than brainlike, and it has a cap margin that is not fused to the stalk. Some people confuse true morels (Morchella spp.) with false morels, though spending just a little time comparing them and reading descriptions should prevent any confusion. All Missouri true morels are completely hollow inside.

Size

Cap width: 1½–7 inches; cap height: 2–10 inches; stalk length: 2–5 inches; stalk width: 1–4 inches.

False_Morel_halved_4-10-19.jpg

Photo of a false morel cut in half, showing chambered, not hollow stalk
False Morel Cut in Half
When you slice a false morel down the middle, the stalk is chambered, not hollow. True morels are completely hollow.

false_morel.jpg

Image of a false morel
False Morel
People debate whether the big red false morel (Gyromitra caroliniana) is safe to eat. We cannot recommend eating it.
Habitat and conservation

Grows singly or in groups, on the ground, in mixed woods, often near dead trees or stumps.

image of Big Red False Morel Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Potentially toxic mushroom. Mushroom aficionados debate whether it's safe to eat. While many Missourians have eaten this particular species of false morel with no ill effects, some people do have a bad reaction to it. There are also several other closely related and similar-looking species in this genus that contain the potentially deadly toxin gyromitrin. The gyromitrin content of this species is poorly understood, but because it is so similar to known poisonous species, and because studies are ongoing, we cannot recommend eating this mushroom.

Life cycle

Mushrooms exist most of the year as a network of cells (mycelium) penetrating the soil or rotting material. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops mushrooms, which produce spores that, once released, can begin new mycelia elsewhere. For at least part of its life cycle, this species is a saprobe, “eating” decaying materials such as dead leaves or wood. It also might be mycorrhizal, spending part of its cycle connected to tree roots in a relationship benefiting both tree and fungus.

Human connections

“There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!” The edibility and toxicity of this Gyromitra species is hotly debated among mycologists and mushroom hunters. A lookalike species in states north of Missouri is certainly poisonous and has caused deaths. If you're considering eating any mushroom, learn all you can about it, and make sure your ID is absolutely certain.

Ecosystem connections

Fungi and their fruiting bodies, mushrooms, are part of our natural environment. Their importance in forest ecosystems is monumental. Besides nourishing forest trees through symbiosis, they are also the wood rotters of the natural world, recycling nutrients back into the soil.