Posts tagged Morchella rufobrunnea

Morchella – The morel, a worldwide favourite

This mushroom is a favourite right around the world.   Most people in Western Australia are completely unaware of it, however.  I have found it in quite a few situations, but nothing quite compared with the crops that emerged from pine bark mulch next to a limestone wall at Golden Bay, to the south of Perth over a period of 3 years.  There were thousands of them. They are always quoted as a spring mushroom, but I found these large crops in mid-winter (June/July).

I didn’t get photographs of the outcropping, unfortunately as it was before digital cameras were an everyday item.  But I did get this one picture of a single specimen. (see edit below) There is a better image of one on this site.

morchella

And, just in case you don’t believe the  numbers of morels that I picked, here is a jar full of dried ones.   BTW, if drying morels, do it as fast as possible to prevent any other organisms taking hold.

I have found a single morel growing in the karri forest right next to my place, and they are reported as being common in Spring through the jarrah forests of the SW.  They are not uncommon in suburban Perth, and friends have shown me examples cropping up in their back yards.

It is quite easy to culture these from a piece of the inside of the hollow stem, using standard techniques.   The ones I have cultures like this have been very vigorous growers.  However, moving  from culture to fruiting body is not a simple task and has defeated many highly skilled mycologists, as well as me.

I have eaten a lot of these, my favourite recipe being morels stuffed with crab meat cooked in a cream sauce.  The only problem I found was that it was almost impossible to wash the sand out of the crenulations.  WA is a sandy place.  To be perfectly honest, though I find them to be pleasant to eat, I can’t understand the frenzy that they induce in places like the US, in May.

When I had a lot of them, I tried to sell some to restaurants around Perth.  Most of them had never seen a morel!

Note: June 2011. The morels in the picture above have been identified as Morchella rufobrunnea, by DNA matching through the assistance of morel expert Philippe Clowez. This appears to be the first record of this species in Australia. Previous specimens have come from Mexico, Israel, The Canary Isands. The habitat where these were found is remarkably similar to that described for the other specimens, even down to the presence of olive trees in one case. The unusual timing of the fruiting appears to be another feature in common with the overseas versions. Thank you Philippe.

Edit 1 Sept 2015:  With thanks to correspondent Oscar, I was able to collect more specimens of Morchella rufobrunnea from pinebark mulch in Joondalup a Perth suburb last weekend.  This was exactly the same sort of substrate that I found them in before.   I am very grateful to Oscar for alerting me to these as I have been on the lookout for them for 14 years since my first find.   Here is a picture of a cluster of them together with the lump of and bark and soil that they were growing from.

IMG_0157morelsmall

The lump of bark and soil appears to be stuck together with mycelium in much the same way as the stonemaker fungus, Polyporus tuberaster.  The association with pine bark mulch is interesting as this species is reported to be associated with pine forests.  Just how they come to be associated with the mulch is a mystery though.  They appear to be saprobic rather than mycorrhizal in this case.  Since the advent of Facebook mushroom interest groups it has been possible to establish that these are also widespread in SA, VIC and NSW too. They occur over a very wide time range, from June right through to October.

Here is a picture of some as they occurred on the mulch.

morchellaruffoonbark

Another type of morel that occurs in Western Australia comes up in forests after fire.   I have encountered these in burnt karri forest in large numbers though they are also reported to occur in burnt jarrah forest.  These are reported to be Morchella elata by the local mycologists. Here are a couple of images of them.

Morchella elata lantern1

Morchella3

From these two images, it can be seen that the morphology changes widely. The second one looks very much like M. importuna, a mulch-growing species from the US.

More recent work has suggested that there are two fire morels in WA, one of which is identified as Morchella septimelata and the other is yet to be named.  A recent revision by Richard et al. renames M. septimelata as the earlier described M. eximia. This is of worldwide distribution and genetically identical specimens have been reported from Wyoming.  A specimen collected in 2016 by the author has been confirmed as M. eximia by DNA analysis. Fire morels occur in August and September.

There is another morel that occurs in NSW and Victoria in forests that have not been subjected to fire.  It was recently (2014) identified as Morchella australiana.  I don’t believe that this has been recorded from Western Australia at this stage (though it would perhaps be nice if they did).  It appears that this is the only morel that can be described as native to Australia.

People have been collecting morels that are not associated with fire  from the forests in Victoria for a long time.  Perhaps these are the Morchella australiana referred to above.   Below is a picture of a basket of them kindly provided by a friend.   You can see the black edges on them which seem to be a feature of these ones.

Victorian forest morels

Victorian forest morels

In Tasmania, Karen Stott & Caroline Mohammed have investigated native morels as part of a RIRDC project, “Specialty Mushroom Production Systems: Maitake and Morels”, available online.  They have identified a number of species that are shown below in a picture from their publication. They also address the cultivation of these fungi.  It would not be surprising to find similar species in WA, or perhaps a re-classification of some of the M. elata that are currently reported here.

tasmanian morels

In South Australia, people are reporting a morel with black edges.  One report says that these can be found on remnant sand dunes with sclerophyll forest.  Here is a picture of one from South Australia with kind permission from Yannick Foubert.

yannick-morel

There are many more morels in the US than we have here.  Debbie Viess who has been kind enough to comment in this blog has a rather nice summary together with some information on some of the different species.

October 2021

I was intrigued to see some images taken by Bronek Burza in the Hobart area of Tasmania labelled Morchella tasmanica. A couple of his images are included below, with his permission.

Morchella tasmanica credit Bronek Burza
Morchella tasmanica credit Bronek Burza

I had not heard of this species before so I did a little bit of research. It turns out that this was first described in 1920 by John Ramsbottom who worked for the British Museum. The specimen was collected by Lilian Suzette Gibbs in 1914 from The Dromedary near Hobart. A snippet from her publication is given below.

Lilian Gibbs (1870-1925) is quite an interesting character – she travelled the world documenting the ecology of mountain habitats. I will leave the interested reader to research further about her.

Lilian Suzette Gibbs

The description of the species is given in the second installment of the paper above. It is in Latin and doesn’t really help too much with the identification.

To date there has only been one species of Morchella that has been considered to be native to Australia and this is Morchella australiana. Some collections from Tasmania have been identified as M. australiana and there is some speculation that Gibbs’ specimen is in fact the same as M. australiana. In that case it would seem that the name Morchella tasmanica should take precedence. It should be noted though that the Tasmanian specimens do not seem to turn black like the specimens of M. australiana from Victoria and NSW.

This led me to wonder if the Gibbs’ specimen was still in existence and if it might be possible to do a DNA analysis on it. It seems that I have been beaten to the punch here and that just last month a voucher was lodged in Genbank by a group of Australian mycologists. It appears with the Genbank reference OK159934.1. Perhaps because this is a very old specimen, the analysis has been done on the LSU (large subunit ribosomal RNA gene). If one runs a BLAST on this, it does not show up M. australiana as a close relative but perhaps this is because the different approach taken in the DNA analysis. I don’t have sufficient expertise to work my way through this. In due course I imagine that there might be some publication explaining whether M. tasmanica and M. australiana are the same species.

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