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.


Anonymous said...

The half-free's show up here'bouts around the same time as the false.
Collect 'em while you can but use them immediately...they will not dry, instead they will soften and rot in a hurry.


Anonymous said...

We found some half frees here in Moultrie County, Illinois yesterday. They were in a damp, rotted area, hidden under leaves. There were elms nearby, dead and alive. The majority of them were under a web of saplings and branches, in the shade. And there were a ton of white flies in the leaves around them. They look just like your photos, too. There were true morels nearby, and only 1 verpa in the area.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add, their were tons of white oak trees, also. Hope this helps!

Lucinda said...

St. Charles county- found quite a few today mainly in white oak underbrush. Curiously close to where there had been many black morels a few days earlier.

Legacy Stables said...

I found 52 half free morels today but not a single "regular" morel. I live near Stewartsville MO. I hope the area I found them in will produce as many yellows in the coming days when warmer weather sets in. I'm curious if that is the experience of others. First they find the half's and then the yellows.

Anonymous said...

Found half-frees in Teton County Wyoming today. They were ground hugging with black ridges. They were growing in a sandy soil near the river and under cottonwood trees. We had a difficult time identifying what it was exactly and decided to toss them. Sounds like a mistake now.

Anonymous said...

Ok so you have found the exact same mushroom that I have found in a strip woods here I Huntington Indiana. No one has had a closer pic than you on what I've found. And you discribe it to a T. The area I found them was in swampy soft ground those was the bigger ones. Then in the same woods on top of the hill I found smaller ones under leaves.
I found spikes on the other side of the woods and not a single half free. This is the only woods I have every seen them. Hope you get this post.
Happy Hunting !!

ahistory said...

Glad to hear this info. was useful.

Matthew Breuer said...

Loads of half-free's up here in northern MN. We found a pile of them today in downed poplar with a lot of wet leaf-litter. They are almost always close to water for me, and always close to downed poplar (popple) or birch. They were mixed right in with the black morels...

Anonymous said...

whats up stan! under honeysuckle bushes almost always regardless of trees nearby. not much of a shelf life though.

sustainable forager