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Morchella elata (Family Morchellaceae)

Morel

Distribution:

Widespread in open forests of southern Australia. The distribution shown on the map is based on herbarium records and reliable sightings. It is likely that this species has a wider distribution than that shown on the map. However there has been little work on the distribution of Australian fungi and there are surprisingly few herbarium specimens of even the common species. (ACT, NSW, SA, TAS, WA, VIC)

Features:

A cratered, greyish to brown, conical cap atop a creamy to brownish stem. The 'craters' are contained within pronounced, vertical ridges. The cap is 2 to 6 cm in length up to 4 cm in diameter at the base. The lower part of the cap bends around to join the stem, the cratering continuing all the way. There are no gills, for this is not a mushroom. The stem can be up to 5 cm long and 2 cm in diameter.

Spore print: white. Ascomycete.

Ecology/Way of Life:

This species is primarily a saprotroph, but at times also mycorrhizal. The fruiting bodies can appear in large numbers a year or more after fires and are found on soil. Morels may form sclerotia (from a few millimetres to 5 cm in diameter) which are resting bodies that allow the fungus to survive adverse conditions. In some ways this is analogous to the production of bulbs or tubers by flowering plants.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Morels are eaten in many parts of the world. Attempts to grow morels had been largely unsuccessful until the discovery (in the 1980s) of a method that yielded consistent results.

Other Comments:

The type specimen was collected in Europe. Another species, Morchella esculenta, has a more spherical cap, with the ridges irregular, rather than vertical, in arrangement. Both Morchella elata and Morchella esculenta are cosmopolitan in distribution. Some people have maintained that that there is another species (Morchella conica) that, macroscopically, is very similar to Morchella elata – with the same vertical ridges. However, the Australian representatives of this genus have not been thoroughly studied so, for the moment, it would be safer not to distinguish between the two. Cambage (1901) using the name Morchella conica, wrote that this “... and somewhat similar species of Fungi were known to the Aborigines by the name Merl”.

Further Reading:

Arnold, G. (2002). Fungimap. http://fungimap.rbg.vic.gov.au/fsp/sp033.html

Bougher, N. & Syme, K. (1998). Fungi of Southern Australia, University of Western Australia Press.

Cambage, R.H. (1901). Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 26: p.691.

Grey, P. & Grey, E. (2005). Fungi Down Under. Fungimap, Melbourne.

Hall, I., Buchanan, P.K., Yun, W. & Cole, A.L.J. (1998). Edible and poisonous Mushrooms: an introduction. New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research, Christchurch.

Ower, R. (1992). Notes on the development of the morel ascocarp. Mycologia. 74: pp142 – 144.

Ower, R., Mills, G. & Malachowski, J. (1988). Cultivation of Morchella. US Patent No. 4,594, 809 (1986) and US Patent No. 4,757, 640 (1988).

Rifai, M.A. (1968). The Australasian Pezizales in the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Verhandelingen der Koninkluke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. Natuurkunde, Tweede Reeks. 57: pp1-295.

Stott, K. & Mohammed, K. (2004). Specialty Mushroom Production Systems: Maitake and Morels. Rural Industries research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Canberra.

Volk, T.J. (1991). Understanding the morel life cycle: key to cultivation. McIlvainea 10: 7pp6 – 81.

Volk, T.J. & Leonard, T.J. (1990). Cytology of the life cycle of Morchella. Mycological Research 94: pp399 – 406.

Acknowledgments:

Text and map by Heino Lepp. Image by Bruce Fuhrer.
More images of this and other fungal species available in: A Field Guide to Australian Fungi

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