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True vs. False Morels

The Differences Between True Morels and False Morels: A Guide for Foragers

Written by: Storm Peschel

Foraging for wild mushrooms can be a rewarding experience, but it comes with its own set of risks, particularly when it comes to spring and distinguishing between true morels and their toxic look-alikes, known commonly as, “false morels”. This post will help you understand the key differences between these mushrooms and why it’s crucial to know them.

I have been leading Forays privately and with the volunteer group, The Mycological Society of Toronto, for many years, and with lots of field experience surrounded by foragers of all skill levels i have always been made aware that people often confuse true and false Morels. I hope this guide highlights some of the differences between the two.

All Morels, True, and False are Ascomycetes and are fairly distinctive. Distinctiveness aside i am yearly decieved by some pinecones sitting upright amongst the leaf litter.

morel, yellow morel, Morchella
Morchella Esculenta

What Are True Morels? (Morchella)

True morels belong to the genus Morchella and are highly sought after by foragers for their distinctive honeycomb appearance and delicious flavour. They typically appear in the spring and are found in wooded areas, often near ash, elm, and apple trees in sandy soils.

True Morels we commonly encounter are,

Morchella Esculenta - Yellow Morel

Morchella Angusticeps - Black Morel

Key Features of True Morels

- Appearance: True morels have a cone-shaped cap with a honeycomb-like structure. The ridges and pits are a hallmark of these mushrooms.

- Hollow Interior: When sliced lengthwise, true morels are completely hollow from the tip of the cap to the bottom of the stem.

- Color: They can range from tan to dark brown, with the darker morels usually appearing later in the season.

True Morel

True Morel

What Are False Morels? (Gyromitras)

False Morel of the genus Gyromitra

False morels, belonging to various genera such as Gyromitra and Verpa, can look strikingly similar to true morels, which can be dangerous given their potential toxicity. Some species of false morels contain gyromitrin (Gyromitras...), a toxin that can cause severe illness.

Gyromitra (False Morel)

Key Features of False Morels

- Appearance: False morels often have a more irregular and lobed cap, which can resemble a brain or saddle.

- Interior Structure: Unlike true morels, false morels are not hollow. They may have cottony or chambered interiors.

- Stem Attachment: In true morels, the cap is attached directly to the stem at the base, whereas in some false morels, the cap hangs freely from the top of the stem.

Potential Toxicity of False Morels

- Gyromitrin Poisoning: Consuming false morels that contain gyromitrin can lead to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and in severe cases, liver damage and seizures. It’s crucial to cook morels thoroughly, but even that might not eliminate all toxins in some false morels.

For some more indepth info checkout the Wikipedia page for Gyromitra Esculenta

- Cumulative Effects: The toxins in false morels can accumulate in the body over time, leading to long-term health issues for regular consumers.

Forage Safely

Foraging can be an enjoyable and fruitful activity, but safety must always come first. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

-Learn from Experts. Go foraging with experienced mushroom hunters who can help you identify true morels correctly.

-Use Reliable Guides. Invest in a good mushroom identification guide to help in the field. Joining a Mycological Society near you is a great way to know which books are being used by more experienced mycologists in your area!

-Check out online resources like iNaturalist and Mushroom Observer, participating I these groups is a great way to expand your knowledge of fungi.

-Join a Mycological Society. Learning to identify Fungi can be challenging at first. many Mycological sociteys host Forays where you will look for and identify fungi. Those in the GTA should check out The Mycological Society of Toronto.

-When in Doubt, Throw It Out. If you have ANY doubts about a mushroom, it’s better to err on the side of caution and not consume it.


Understanding the differences between true morels and false morels is essential for anyone interested in identifying Fungi. By paying attention to key features and being aware of the potential toxicity of false morels, you can enjoy the hunt safely and responsibly. Happy Forays!

If you want to dive deeper into Morels, checkout this wikipedia page!

As a side note, With many Fungi, if you choose to eat any True Morels be sure to cook them thoroughly! I often fry them with just butter untill they are well cooked and have a slight crisp.


Have you had any experiences foraging for morels? Share your stories and tips in the comments below! Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for more foraging tips and mushroom recipes.

Spring Bounty of Morels

Morchella Decipticus AKA Pinecone

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