Finding Burn Morels in Colorado

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

In recent years, as with many of the western states, it has felt like we've had two seasons in Colorado: winter and fire. Wildfires ripping through dry forests, billions of dollars spent on fire fighting and suppression, and too many homes and structures lost in the blazes. A fire epidemic some might say. However, there is a silver lining in all of the destruction... Morels.

Burn morels have the strange ability to change the way you feel about a wildfire. From sadness and worry to a little bit a excitement and wonder. After reading this, and especially after finding your first great haul of burn morels, you will understand exactly what I'm talking about. The next time you drive by a fire scar your mind will drift to morels, "look at all that forest that was destroyed... so sad, how horrible... I hope no one was hurt... I wonder if that drainage would be a good spot for morels... or maybe that flat up there on the edge of the burn..." It's quite a dichotomy that these little mushrooms can create!

About Burn Morels

Burn morels are the final type of morel that we will cover in Colorado Morel Series. In the previous five posts of the series I've laid down the ground work to hopefully teach you how to become a better morel hunter. In this post we're going to focus less on the actual finding of the morels, and more on the finding of "good" burns. See, there's that dichotomy creeping in again... good burns...

Unlike the riparian loving yellow morels, and 'natural' black morels, the burn morels are a bit easier to find once you're in the right habitat. And once you do find them you usually find a ton! The reason they're easier to find should be pretty obvious; find the burns to find the morels! That said, it's not nearly as simple as just choosing any ol' burn, not all burns are good for morels. Figuring out which burns to target, when to target them, and what areas to focus on within the burns are the keys to successfully finding burn morels. My goal with this post is to teach you how to accomplish all of the above!

Before we get into the details of choosing burns, let's touch on some of the specifics of burn morels. First, they are considered black morels as previously mentioned, so they share the same traits as the non-burn black morels we covered in the last post, and The Basics - Part 1. As I also mentioned in the post about black morels, there are a handful of different species that grow in burns. Think back to the taxonomy section in The Basics - Part 1 and bear with me again for just a little bit...

My current understanding is that there are four (maybe five) species of burn morels:

  • Morchella sextelata

  • Morchella septimelata

  • Morchella capitata

  • Morchella tomentosa

Note: You may see these species listed under different names in other sources. The changing and updating of binomial names is a common, and sometimes annoying, side-effect of a fairly novel field of study. As more information comes in about a species from DNA sequencing or from having more specimens to study the names sometimes have to be updated to better suit a new classification. Other times the first person to name them just got it wrong...

The first three of these morel species are very similar in appearance, and the first two are indistinguishable without DNA sequencing. The fourth species, M. tomentosa, is often called the gray morel and is distinguishable because it is covered in fine hairs and can appear to be gray in color. I've also recently read that one of our natural black morel species, M. brunnea, may sometimes fruit in burns. I don't know anything else about this... there's a little more information in one of the links below.

I've read and been told that we have gray morels in Colorado, but I have never personally found one. After posting this blog, it has been confirmed by a few reliable sources that Morchella tomentosa can indeed be found in Colorado burns. Most of the burn morels that I have picked in Colorado fit best into the M. septimelata description. For more information related to this topic please reference these links. The first is the morel family key on Mushroom Expert which I find extremely helpful. The second is a recent blog post by my friends over at Modern Forager which goes into some more details about all of this nerdy taxonomy talk, this is the one that has a little information about M. brunnea as a burn species. More good stuff from Modern Forager coming a little later as well!

I think that's enough of that! Let's get into figuring out how to actually find burn morels! This process can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. I hope you like maps...

Screen grab from OnX Maps showing the historic wildfire data in SW Colorado.

Mapping for Burn Morels

I reference various maps for everything I do in the outdoors: foraging, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, even work! They're invaluable for pre-trip planning and almost always make my outings more efficient and successful. So, let's talk about how maps will help you succeed at finding burn morels.

The first step is choosing which map(s) to use, and there are plenty of options when it comes to mapping software that will provide you with burn information. Some are free and some have a cost associated with them. Usually, if you pay for it you're getting the information more readily, where as the free options sometimes require a little digging around. I have used a variety of these and will list them below with some of my thoughts on each one. Understand that this list is not comprehensive, merely what I'm familiar with. If you have any other mapping resources that you like please let me know in the comments below!

Mapping Options for Purchase:

  • OnX Maps is an amazing mapping software, and is my most used by far. It was created for hunters, but has a ton of great features that are useful for any sort of outdoor recreation. For access to the wildfire data on their maps you have to purchase a subscription to their smart phone app. They have annual subscription options for a single state for $29.99/yr, or all 50 states for $99.99/yr. All subscription options give you access to their web app as well which is great when you want to do some at-home scouting on your computer. I would highly recommend checking it out using their free 7-day trial if you're curious about it at all. The app allows you to download maps and utilize them with GPS tracking while your phone is in airplane mode. You do not need cell phone service to use your downloaded maps! There are tons of different layer options available including public and private land boundaries, land ownership information, historical and current wildfires (obviously), and many others! In my opinion this is the best option if you're someone who participates in many of the recreational opportunities in Colorado; someone who hunts, fishes, forages, hikes, and wants mapping for all of it! OnX is also available as GPS chips which are sold by the state for $119.00, however the GPS chips do not include the wildfire layers. If you decide this is the option for you please tell them Orion at Forage Colorado sent you! I don't get anything from them for recommending their product, but maybe in the future! Also feel free to get in touch if you need some help with this software, I'm very familiar with it.

  • The Modern Forager Curated Burn Maps are a great option if you're new to mapping, new to hunting burn morels, and just want something that makes the process as easy as possible. They offer subscription options for just Colorado which is $25.00, or you can purchase access to maps for all of the western and southwestern states, and Alaska for $39.00; great for anyone looking to do a little myco-tourism in the spring! Purchasing either subscription will also give you access to their previous burn maps, all of which are accessed through your account on their website. From there you are able to look at all of the burns, or you can sort through the 'A' list and 'B' list burns that have been hand-picked by the duo at Modern Forager. Many of these hand-picked burns include notes of their thoughts on the burn; often some useful insight i