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How to Identify Beefsteak & Elephant Ear Mushrooms

Beefsteak funus (Fistulina hepatica), also called Ox Tongue, is an edible mushroom that grows in North America and Europe. But the elephant ear mushroom, or false morels (Helvella and Gyromeitra spp.), are considered poisonous mushrooms in the United States, due to the levels of monomethyl hydrazine (MMH) contained in the mushrooms. MMH can cause severe illness and even death. Some people claim that elephant ears are edible because in some regions these mushrooms contain far less MMH than in other areas, making them safe to eat. Do not attempt to eat false morels, however, because there is no reliable way to determine the amount of MMH contained in the mushroom.

Identify Beefsteak Fungus

Look for beefsteak fungus growing individually or in clusters from July to October on dead hardwood stumps. You can also find these mushrooms growing from the bases of live oaks or chestnut trees.

Identify beefsteak mushrooms by their cap size and color. Their caps are semicircular or tongue-shaped, 2 to 6 inches across with a pink to orange-red top, and 1 to 2 ½ inches thick.

Study the stem to identify beefsteak fungi. Some beefsteak mushrooms have no visible stem, but the ones that do have short, thick and deep-red stems.

Take a spore print by placing the cap of the beefsteak fungus spore-side down on a sheet of black paper, letting it sit on the paper for 2-3 hours. Beefsteak mushrooms should leave a spore print that is light-pinkish or salmon colored.

Spot beefsteak fungi by its flesh and odor. The beefsteak fungus has a pleasant odor and its flesh bruises when damaged or cut, turning a dark reddish-brown.

Identify Elephant Ear Mushrooms

Find elephant ears, or false morels, growing directly from the ground in forested areas from the spring through the fall.

Identify elephant ears by their wrinkled, brain-like caps that are black, brown, gray, white or even reddish. Although the false morel’s cap has lobes and wrinkles, it doesn’t have pits and ridges like a true morel.

Spot elephant ears by their thick stems. This 2- to 8-inch tall mushroom has a stem that attaches to the bottom of the cap, instead of the cap skirting free around the stem like true morels.


Reference a mushroom field guidebook to help you to identify wild mushrooms. Most local agricultural extension offices and local libraries carry these guidebooks, which have detailed descriptions and illustrations of your region’s plants and fungi.


Don’t eat any mushroom if you’re unsure about its exact identification. Some people are allergic to even the edible, “safe” mushroom species, so consume just a tiny amount of a mushroom when you’re eating it for the first time and wait about 24 hours before eating more.

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