Updated: Apr 12, 2020
We’ve made it through the basics! Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of morels in Colorado. The specifics that will hopefully help guide you to finding more of these weirdly fascinating, and wildly captivating mushrooms! First up, yellow morels.
About Yellow Morels
Yellows or blondes are probably the most well-known and frequently hunted type of morel. They’re commonly found in the Southeast and Midwest in late winter and early spring as they move their way closer and closer to fruiting in Colorado.
Before we really get into the details I want to do a very brief recap of traits. This will be handy for anyone who skipped The Basics Part 1. There are several species of yellow morels that show up in the areas I mentioned above, but as far as I can tell in Colorado we only have one, Morchella esculentoides (this information could change as more DNA sequencing occurs on our Colorado fungi!). As with all morels, the yellow morels in Colorado will be completely hollow and have a cap that attaches to the stem at the bottom edge of the cap. The yellow morels, when compared to the black morels (next section!), will have yellow to tan pits with lighter colored ridges.
So, how the heck do we find them!? That’s exactly what I aim to teach you through the rest of this post. We’ll start with the when…
When to Look for Yellow Morels
Generally, yellow morels will start fruiting in mid to late April and can fruit until mid or late May and sometimes even early June in ideal conditions. More specifically, all morels tend to start fruiting when soil temperatures reach about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember the soil thermometer from the gear list in the last section? This is why it’s an important piece of gear to have with you! In addition to knowing soil temperature, knowing your elevation can also help you pin point when you'll have the best chance of success. However, I'm going to save that until a little later in the 'troubleshooting' part of this post.
That probably seems like a pretty simple answer, and I’ve kept it fairly general on purpose. Morels, other mushrooms, and even plants, will often surprise you with what they decide to do. Occasionally people find morels in their front yards, or really early, or before temperatures seem ‘correct’. There are always exceptions to the norm, however, the above parameters should cover the majority of when you’ll find yellow morels in Colorado.
Where you’ll find them is also fairly simple if you don’t get into the minutia: low elevation riparian areas. If that was all you knew about yellow morels and you just wandered the river-lands, you would eventually find a morel. Luckily for you, I like getting more detailed than that!
Where to Look for Yellow Morels
Riparian is defined as “relating to or situated on the banks of a river”. Simply, the area around a river, stream, creek, etc. As a note, I include the floodplain in my definition of riparian. If you open a satellite map of the Foothills and zoom in on any of the major rivers you can very obviously tell where the river loving plant life stops, either naturally or in many cases unnaturally where it butts up to urban development. This would be the riparian area, and your starting place for yellow morels!
There are no specific plants that morels associate with in Colorado, so I won’t go into details on plant species, but there are several that you should be familiar with because they can help you locate the right habitats for yellow morels. However, before we get into those I want to talk about a term that you’ll see thrown around when people are talking about Colorado morels. That term is ‘indicator plant’ or ‘indicator species’.
If you’ve listened to the morel podcast I recorded with Field to Table Outdoors then you’ll already know that I’m not a huge fan of that term. In my experience beginners will often think ‘indicator’ suggests ‘association’ and get stuck on looking for certain ‘indicator species’ because they think that will magically lead them to the morels. In actuality, an ‘indicator species’ will be indicating one or two things: timing and/or habitat. The other issue with that term is that often people think of them as sure things, which is not the case at all. Indicators merely suggest that you might be on the right track… maybe. My suggestion is to be familiar with some of the common ones but take them for what they are. None of the ‘indicator species’ you’ll find floating around online for Colorado morels will guarantee your success.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s talk about habitats and plants that you should be looking for when trying to find yellow morels! Not all riparian habitats are created equal, and knowing what to focus on can help you narrow down your search area immensely. The first two features I look for are mature cottonwoods and grass. I have never found a yellow morel in Colorado that was not near one or both of those. You will often read about how narrowleaf cottonwood (Populus angustifolia) are the species to look for, but in my experience the type of cottonwood hasn’t been a large factor, as long as one of the cottonwood species are around it’s probably decent morel habitat. Other species of cottonwoods that you will find in Colorado include plains (P. deltoides), and lanceleaf (P. acuminata). We also have a large amount of hybrid cottonwoods that were planted as landscape, shelter belt, or windbreak trees, but these aren’t usually found in riparian areas. As for the specific grass species… I don’t know them, nor do I think they’re important, yellow morels just seem to like grass!
Other tree species that you may see in this habitat include: boxelder (Acer negundo), elms (Ulmus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), and plums and cherries (Prunus spp.).
Knowing these species isn’t necessary to have success in finding morels, but it never hurts to know more about the surrounding landscape. Plus some of them can provide other goods to forage like the plums, cherries, and elms! You will also likely come across some wild asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) and oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.) if you keep your eyes peeled! The riparian habitat is a lush place full of wild food, but I will save that for another post.
***Important Note: Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, can also commonly be found in the same habitat. Be familiar with this plant and avoid it at all costs!