Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Half Free Morel - just as yummy but only half as much.
I have been meaning to devote a post to these guys for a long time but got too busy once the season started to kick in, so I thought I would work on it now as things start to slow down and I have been able to catch up on all the work around the house that I have been neglecting.
For those of you who also read the Missouri report board over at Morels.com, you may remember Jason from Nixa, MO talking about finding some half-frees early in the season that did not look like the half-free commonly found around these parts. The common ones tend to look a little like black morels, in that the ridges usually darken and often turn black as they age and they have long stalks. These are more like a yellow morel in appearance and have short stubby ground hugging stalks.
These however, more closely resembled yellows. When Jason first posted pics, many, myself included thought they could be wrinkle capped verpas. A close look-a-like that is often mistaken for half-frees and morels but can cause gastrointestinal distress in many who try them.
However, as you can tell by these photos Jason sent me, they are clearly half-frees. They are clearly attached to the stem on the stalk and not at the cap. Also, the stalk is completely hollow and did not contain any cotton-like fibers as the stalks of verpas do. So, it leaves us with a puzzle.
I asked around on the Michigan Morel Board (a great morel hunters site that I highly recommend) and fellow hunter Steo from Ohio said that he had found something similar that they call "woodsy's" or "spikes" and that he had sent a sample to Michael Kuo's Morel Data Collection Project (MDCP) on MushromExpert.com.
I had speculated that these were a different species in my conversations with Jason, unfortunately, due to lack of funding and time, Dr. Kuo has yet to get all of the samples he received submitted for DNA analysis and this is one. So we may never know for sure, but other DNA analysis of half-frees across the US identified only two half free varieties, one that occurs throughout the US and one that was only collected in Oregon. That led me to speculate that perhaps the differences were in growth stage. And in am email from Dr. Kuo to Steo, he says the same thing. "Your photo looks like a fairly normal half-free to me; when they're immature they often have short stems and pale caps like that." So I mentioned this to Jason, who assured me that they always stay the same and appear this way even when old in age.
I guess we have to chalk this one up to variable conditions and accept, at least for now that until the DNA results come in, some places just produce different looking mushrooms than others. All and all it is a good lesson on trying to identify different species of morels just by looking at them.
By the way, if you have never heard of the MDCP, I would highly recommend checking it out. Basically Dr. Kuo collected morel information and specimens from across the country and ran DNA testing to try and determine how many species of morels exist in North America. More information can be found at: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/mdcp/index.html. You can find the specific record for Steo's submitted half free at: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/mdcp/recordview.pl?2006041201
Overall, I find half frees very curious. I don't see them too much in the areas I hunt. Actually it wasn't until last year that I found my first, so I know very little about them and always want to learn more. If you have found any half frees this year or in the past, please post a comment or email me with the details. I am wondering if they are found around any certain trees in particular. When I have found them it has always been by a really rotten tree that is to old to accurately identify. I hope someone out there can enlighten me further on these fascinating little guys.