What You Should Know
Gyromitra infula occurs in late summer and fall, not in the spring when other species of Gyromitra can be found (in coastal California, however, it fruits in winter and spring). Its broadly lobed cap is usually pinched into two lobes, creating a saddle-shaped appearance. Its color is extremely variable.
The dark reddish-brown caps of the fruit bodies develop a characteristic saddle-shape in maturity, and the ends of both saddle lobes are drawn out to sharp tips that project above the level of the fruit body.
The stipe is white or flushed pale brown, smooth on the outside, but hollow with some chambers inside.
Gyromitra infula is considered inedible as it contains the toxic compound gyromitrin which, when metabolized by the body, is converted into monomethylhydrazine, a component of some rocket fuels. The toxin may be removed by thorough cooking. Gyromitra fungi are included in the informal category "false morels".
Other names: Hooded False Morel, Elfin Saddle.
Gyromitra infula Mushroom Identification
Saprobic; growing alone, scattered, or gregariously on the well-decayed wood of conifers, or growing terrestrially near stumps and woody debris; widely distributed in North America but more common in northern and montane areas.
2-13 cm high; 2-8 cm across; occasionally nearly cup-shaped when young, but soon becoming lobed with two prominently raised lobes (rarely with 3 or 4 lobes); bald; loosely wrinkled but usually not brainlike; color extremely variable (tan to yellowish brown to reddish-brown to dark brown); undersurface whitish to brownish, finely dusted, sometimes ingrown with stem where contact occurs.
Thin and brittle; whitish to brownish; insubstantial or chambered.
2-12 cm long; up to 3 cm thick; not ribbed; colored like the cap or paler; finely dusted; developing folds near the base.
Toxic; contains gyromitrin, toxin which, when metabolized by the body, is converted into monomethylhydrazine, volatile hydrazine, component of some fuels for rockets.
Spores 17-24 x 7-11 µ; narrowly ellipsoid; with two large oil droplets (sometimes with 1 or 3 droplets); smooth; without apiculi, or with slightly thickened (under 1 µ) walls at the ends, creating the illusion of broad, very shallow apiculi (best seen with heated cotton blue). Asci 8-spored. Paraphyses capitate; 7-10 µ wide; with red granular contents.
Gyromitra infula Look-Alikes
Is a nearly identical species with spores measuring 22-30 x 7.5-12 µ and featuring a blunt apiculus at each end (1.5-3 µ), a smaller fruiting body with more violet colors, and northern distribution. The description of G. Infula in Weber (1995) combines Gyromitra Ambigua with Gyromitra infula.
Has a rugose surface (brain-like), not waved or irregular like Gyromitra infula.
Gyromitra infula Taxonomy and Etymology
This mushroom was first described in 1774 by German mycologist Jacob Christian Schäffer as Helvella infula (the original genus spelling was Elvela). In 1849, Elias Magnus Fries established the genus Gyromitra, distinguishing it from Helvella based on a gyrose hymenium (marked with wavy lines or convolutions); the genus was based on the type species Gyromitra esculenta.
Later, in 1886, French mycologist Lucien Quélet transferred the species to Gyromitra. The next few decades witnessed some lingering confusion as to the correct taxonomical placement of these fungi.
In 1907, Jean Boudier moved both G. esculenta and H. infula into a newly created genus he called Physomitra; he retained the genus Gyromitra but "based it on an entirely different character to exclude from the genus the very species on which it was founded". In an attempt to reconcile the confusion surrounding the naming and identity of the two mushrooms, Fred J. Seaver proposed that both were synonymous, representing variable forms of the same species. His suggestion was not adopted by later mycologists, who identified differences between the two species, including fruiting time as well as macroscopic and microscopic differences.
The genus name is derived from the Greek words gyros/γυρος "round" and mitra/μιτρα "headband"; the specific epithet is from the Latin infǔla, a heavy band of twisted wool worn by Roman officiants at sacrifices.
Additionally, G. infula is a member of a group of fungi collectively known as "false morels", so named for their resemblance to the highly regarded edible true morels of the genus Morchella. This group includes other species of the genus Gyromitra, such as G. esculenta (brain mushroom), G. caroliniana (beefsteak mushroom) and G. gigas (snow morel).
Photo 1 - Author: Holger Krisp (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)
Photo 2 - Author: Sasata (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)
Photo 3 - Author: Елена Смирнова (Public Domain)