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a group of ascomycetous fungi consisting of caps and stalks and having fragile, bulky fruiting bodies with little flesh. The surface of the cap is vesicular, flexuous, wavy, or smooth and is covered with a sporebearing layer. There are a number of genera. The most common are Morchella, which has a ribbed-vesicular cap whose edges are attached to the stalk; Verpa, which has a wrinkled or, less frequently, smooth cap with free edges; and Gyromitra, which has a flexuous cap that resembles a brain and has partially attached edges. Sometimes the Russian common name smorchki is given to all genera and species of morels.
Morels most commonly grow in early spring in forests, in parks, and in the steppe. The most common mushrooms of the group are M. esculenta, M. stepicola, V. bohemica, and G. esculenta. (The last species grows in pine groves.) All four species are used as food. However, G. esculenta contains a toxic substance that can cause serious poisoning. The mushroom should be chopped into tiny pieces and boiled, since the toxic substance is soluble in hot water. G. esculenta is considered harmless when dried.
B. P. VASIL’KOV