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Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 36

Morels The morels are a small group of somewhat unusual fungi, found on rich soil in woods or gardens in late spring. They have a brown, rounded, more-or-less egg-shaped cap looking like a wrinkled honey comb, perched on a short, hollow, paler stalk. Morels are uncommon in Suffolk, which is a pity as they are edible and much favoured by gourmets. However, they should never be eaten raw. When boiled they produce a liquid containing harmful chemicals which must be strained off. These fungi can be seen in country markets in France and Germany where they command a high price, and they can be dried successfully. In Prussia, the peasants used to light fires in the forest, knowing that morels grow well on burnt ground, but this practice was prohibited by royal decree. A Silesian folk tale claimed that the Devil seized an old woman, cut her into pieces and threw them to the ground. A morel then grew wherever a piece fell, the wrinkled fungus resembling an old woman. Not a politically acceptable tale today. An even more obscure fact about morels is that they are the only fungi eaten by Indian Moslems, all other species being considered impure. The relatively large species which are normally eaten are Morchella vulgaris (Pers.) Boud., the Common Morel, which may have a fruit body up to 12 cm high, and M. esculenta Pers. ex St. Amans, which is very similar but can be slightly larger. Both species have been recorded from Suffolk in Martin and Pam Ellis’ book ( 1988) or in the following supplements, from Woodbridge and Mendlesham, but both species are considered ‘uncommon’ in Britain. I have very occasionally seen morels in west Suffolk , even once finding M. esculenta under an apple tree in my garden in Bury St. Edmunds. However, morels may be under-recorded as they occur in spring when toadstools (Agarics ) are relatively few, whereas most ‘fungus forays’ are held in autumn and species lists are made then. The morels are classified as Cup or Flask Fungi (Ascomycetes), a group containing the Cup Fungi (Pezizas), the rare Truffles and the very common Candle Snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) which grows on dead wood. Although in the truffles the spores are produced within a tuber-like underground fruit body, the spores of morels and the cup fungi are produced on the surface of the fruit body from a layer of cells called the hymenium. Club-shaped microscopic cells called asci develop, packed between sterile cells called paraphyses. Each ascus produces eight spores which are ejected violently when ripe. In the case of the morels, the hymenium lines the honey-comb-like shallow depressions on the cap of the fruiting body and the tips of the asci are curved so that the cream-coloured spores are projected outwards and do not impinge on the opposite side of the depression in which the asci are formed. Our President, Dr Robert Stebbings, came across two examples of Mitrophora (Morchella) semi-libera (DC ex Fr.) Leveille on 19 April 2000 in open woodland at Horringer Court, near Bury St. Edmunds. This species is smaller than those mentioned previously, only reaching about 4 cm. There are more-or-less vertical ridges on the cap rather than a honey-comb, and it is dark

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 36 (2000)


Mitrophora semi-libera


Morchella vulgaris

olive brown with the lower part free from the stem. In the other species the cap is joined to the stem. It is considered ‘occasional’ rather than rare in Britain, and would not be worth eating. Geoff. D. Heathcote 2 St Mary’s Square Bury St Edmunds Suffolk IP33 2AJ

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 36 (2000)


Geoff Heathcote

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