The Basics of Colorado Morels - Part 1

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

Welcome to the first “body section” of the Colorado morel series! In the last post I laid out the foundation for the rest of the series: building up what’s to come. In this post, and Part 2, we’ll be diving into what I consider the basics of morels. Information that will help you not only in Colorado, but pretty much anywhere you decide to hunt for them! Let's get started!

First up, taxonomy!

Wait, don’t go! I know it might sound boring, you’re just here to learn how to find morels, and the sooner the better! I understand but bear with me, this is important stuff. Knowing the scientific (Latin) name of a species and how it got that name is important for a lot of reasons - probably enough to warrant a separate blog postadding it to my list. For now, just trust me, it’s good to have at least a little understanding of this. It will make several of my later topics more understandable, and you’ll be more comfortable reading through field guides, or other mushroom related resources. I’ll make it quick, promise.

Let’s go back to high school biology... Your teacher likely made you learn some sort of mnemonic device to help remember taxonomic rankings. Maybe something like "Dear King Philip Came Over For Good Soup". That list of words referring to Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. At its simplest, this ranking system is merely a way of grouping things by their similarities. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a simple and easy way to understand what’s going on. We’ll save a lot of the details for the later blog mentioned above, but know that everything starts at the domain level. Mushrooms (fungi), animals, humans, everything but the “single-celled” organisms are classified in the domain Eukarya. Within Eukarya there are 4 kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Protista, and our main interest, Fungi!

Now, for the purpose of this post we’re going to skip right to the “Good Soup”, the genus and species. These two make up what is called the “binomial nomenclature” of a species (also known as the Latin name). These two names are used together when directly referring to a specific species, and there are a few rules to follow when doing so. The genus should always be capitalized, the species always lower case, and both should be italicized when used in text, for example Morchella septimelata. When using a Latin name or referring to the same genus several times the genus can be shortened to its first letter with a period, such as M. septimelata.

So, why is this important? Well, it is the only way to guarantee that you are referring to a specific species. Using a common name, such as “morel” is completely acceptable, however it carries no specifics, no details as to which species of morel you’re referring to. Finally, you will also often see the sp. and spp. abbreviations for species used after the genus. These are typically used when you’re unsure of the species, or are referring to multiple species within a genus, respectively. So Morchella sp. would mean “a morel species” and Morchella spp. would mean “multiple morel species”, like in the picture below!