Reddish brown, convoluted, brainlike cap; whitish stalk stuffed with cottony tissue. Grows singly or in groups in mixed woods. Late March–May. Cap convoluted, brainlike; reddish brown outside, buff-tan inside; cap margin is fused to the stalk; interior is chambered. Stalk enlarges toward base; whitish; texture grooved to smooth; stuffed with cottony white tissue. Spore print 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.
Cap width: 1½–7 inches; cap height: 2–10 inches; stalk length: 2–5 inches; stalk width: 1–4 inches.
Habitat and conservation:
Grows singly or in groups, on the ground, in mixed woods, often near dead trees or stumps.
Distribution in Missouri:
Potentially deadly mushroom. While many Missourians have eaten false morels with no ill effect, it has also caused serious illness and even death. The toxin is not completely understood and may build up over time to lethal levels. Because serious poisoning and even death is possible, this mushroom is not recommended.
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.
Mushrooms decorate nature the way wildflowers do, adding to our pleasure on hikes. Like wildflowers, fungi can be strikingly beautiful—other times, they are breathtakingly strange! Discovering fungi can bring out our innate capacity for awe and wonder.
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.