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Mushroom misidentification can lead to serious health risks. Always ensure compliance with local foraging laws, including regulations in national and state parks and other government-managed areas.

8 Mushrooms That Look Like Brains

It’s not unusual for nature to throw a few curveballs your way, and if you enjoy going mushroom hunting, you might have noticed that there are certain mushrooms that look like brains. This eerie similarity raises questions for many people, such as whether or not they’re poisonous and what causes them to look like that. In this article, we’ll look at some of these different species of fungi and learn some interesting facts about them. 

8 Mushrooms that look like brains

1. False Morels

False morel mushroom  
False morel mushroom | image by Michael Mortensen via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Gyromitra esculenta

The false morel, also known as the brain mushroom, is a highly popular mushroom that often catches the eye due to its brain-like appearance. It got its name because it looks so much like true morels, which are another type of mushroom with lots of ridges that you can add to various dishes. 

However, it’s important to note that false morels are unsuitable for consumption due to their highly toxic nature, making them potentially deadly. You’ll spot them under aspens and pines from April to July, and they’re more abundant in disturbed areas. 

2. Jelly Drops

Jelly drops
Jelly drops | image by Björn S… via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Ascocoryne sarcoides

Jelly drops, a brain-like fungus known for its fleshy appearance, can be commonly found throughout North America and Europe. Since they’re saprophytic fungi, they obtain their nutrients by attaching to trees. The color of jelly drops is pinkish-purple, and they have a gelatinous consistency. 

Jelly drops begin as round in shape, but they eventually flatten out and transform into cup-shaped forms with wavy edges and smooth upper surfaces. When you look at them, these mushrooms surely resemble brains due to their appearance and the way they grow in clusters. 

3. Leafy brain

Leafy brain
Leafy brain | image by Worm via Flickr

Scientific name: Tremella foliacea

Leafy brains do indeed resemble brains that are attached to decaying wood, as their name suggests. You may recognize them because they possess brown to dark brown bodies that exhibit a gelatinous texture, with folds that resemble seaweeds. 

They become hard, blackish crusts during dry seasons and eventually turn translucent again when it rains, and they can rehydrate. Some people claim that edible leafy brains lack flavor, thus making them an undesirable choice for consumption as a fungus.  

4. Wrinkled Thimble-Cap

Wrinkled thimble cap 
Wrinkled thimble-cap | image by GLJIVARSKO DRUSTVO NIS via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Verpa bohemica

You may notice another species of fungus that resembles a brain, known as the wrinkled thimble-cap or early morel. Its name derives from the fact that it’s one of the first mushrooms to appear early in spring, and is easily identified by its wrinkled, thimble-shaped cap. 

It’s among the mushrooms that are considered edible; however, eating large quantities of them can cause gastrointestinal distress and has even been known to induce comas in some people. That’s why it’s best to prepare them correctly and ensure that you only eat small amounts. 

5. Carolina Big Red

Carolina big red
Carolina big red | image by IPanic2 via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientific name: Gyromitra caroliniana

The Carolina big red is a species that grows under hardwood trees. They appear between the months of April and May, and their presence served as an early indicator that the morel season had already begun. 

Even though big reds are regarded as false morels, they’re still edible, but proper preparation and cooking are crucial to prevent poisoning. You can easily identify them by their red-colored caps, which are folded and crumpled, strikingly resembling brains. 

You may also like:  9 Common Poisonous Wild Mushrooms (Photos)

6. Cauliflower Mushroom

Cauliflower mushroom
Cauliflower mushroom

Scientific name: Sparassis crispa

If you come across a brain-like fungus growing at the base of conifer trunks, which appears white to creamy yellow, you have probably encountered the cauliflower mushroom. Due to its flat and curving structure, this species earned its name by resembling a cauliflower, a sea sponge, and even a brain. 

Some even compare this mushroom to a pot of egg noodles because it can grow to be a foot or more in diameter. They’re prized not only for the way they look but also for their deliciousness, as their nutty flavor shares similarities with that of true morels. 

7. Brain Puffball

Brain puffball mushroom
Brain puffball mushroom | image by Sid Mosdell via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Calvatia craniiformis

A unique-looking puffball you may see growing in open woods is the brain puffball, a species that looks like a skull or a brain. This fungus has a wide range of shapes, from pear-like to flattened spherical to even egg-like. 

People often harvest young puffballs for cooking because they describe them as having a mild and pleasant taste. However, traditional or folk medicines of China and Japan use mature ones as an effective hemostatic agent or as a wound dressing. 

8. Stinkhorn

Stinkhorn mushroom  
Stinkhorn mushroom | image by m.shattock via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Phallus impudicus

You may stumble through a stinkhorn mushroom if you encounter a brain-like fungus emitting an unpleasant odor. True to its name, this fungus has a reputation for having a bad smell, which works in their favor because this odor draws pollinators to them, who then collect the spore mass on their legs and spread it to other locations. 

Despite having a bad smell, these species can be eaten, especially when they’re in the egg stage. However, it might be challenging to eat them once stinkhorns reach maturity due to a stronger odor.