Morchella, the true morels, is a genus of edible mushrooms closely related to anatomically simpler cup fungi in the order Pezizales (division Ascomycota). These distinctive fungi have a honeycomb appearance, due to the network of ridges with pits composing their cap. Morels are sought by thousands of enthusiasts every spring for their supreme taste and the thrill of the hunt, and are highly prized by gourmet cooks, particularly in French cuisine. Due to difficulties in cultivation, commercial harvesting of wild morels has become a multi-million-dollar industry in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, in particular North America, Turkey, China, India, and Pakistan, where these highly prized fungi are found in abundance.
Typified by Morchella esculenta in 1794, the genus has been the source of considerable taxonomical controversy throughout the years, mostly with regards to the number of species involved, with some mycologists recognising as few as three species and others over thirty. Current molecular phylogenetics suggest there might be over seventy species of Morchella worldwide, most of them exhibiting high continental endemism and provincialism.
The genus is currently the focus of extensive phylogenetic, biogeographical, taxonomical and nomenclatural studies, and several new species have been described from Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, North America, Spain and Turkey.