|Black morel near Ulm, Germany|
Morchella elata is a species of fungus in the family Morchellaceae native to Europe. It is one of many related species commonly known as the black morel, and until 2012 the name M. elata was broadly applied to black morels in North America as well. M. elata is a popular edible fungus and is sought by many mushroom hunters.
Like other species in the genus Morchella, M. elata has operculate asci (i.e., having an ascus opening by an apical lid to discharge spores), and unicellular hyaline ascospores with polar oil droplets.
This is an edible species, although like other morels, some individuals may be allergic.
Taxonomy and phylogeny
The fruit bodies of Morchella species, including M. elata, are highly polymorphic in appearance, exhibiting variations in shape, color and size; this has contributed to uncertainties regarding taxonomy. Discriminating between the various species is complicated by uncertainty regarding which species are truly biologically distinct. Mushroom hunters refer to them by their color as the species are very similar in appearance and vary considerably within species and age of individual.
Early phylogenetic analyses supported the hypothesis that the genus comprises only a few species with considerable phenotypic variation. More recent DNA work has suggested more than a dozen distinct groups of morels in North America, and over 60 worldwide. An extensive DNA study showed three discrete clades, or genetic groups, consisting of the black morels (M. elata and others), the yellow morels (M. esculenta and others), and Morchella rufobrunnea. Within the black and yellow clades, there are dozens of individual species, most endemic to individual continents or regions. This species-rich view is supported by studies in North America, Western Europe, Turkey, Israel, the Himalayas, and China.
The scientific name Morchella elata was defined by Elias Magnus Fries in Europe in 1822. Recent DNA analysis has shown North American black morels to be distinct from European species, therefore restricting the use of the M. elata name to Europe. The taxonomy of morels in North America was clarified in 2012, providing names for many of the black morels that may have been referred to as M. elata in the past:
Morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxins that are removed by thorough cooking; morel mushrooms should never be eaten raw. It has been reported that even cooked morels can sometimes cause mild intoxication symptoms when consumed with alcohol.
When eating this mushroom for the first time it is wise to consume a small amount to minimize any allergic reaction. Morels for consumption must be clean and free of decay.
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