Sunday 3 May 2020

Morchella Coloring Time: Greys, Yellows, and Whites

Morchella tomentosa
©Toby Esthay

Morchella Coloring Time: Greys, Yellows, and Blacks. 

For some, Morel species don't come into play. They are either Grey, Yellow/White, Black, or False.

We know that "false Morels" don't exist, so we can just drop that one, right now. 

However, let's talk about the rest. Specifically, we'll talk about those in North America, though there are a few species found in both North America and Europe.

Old Yeller. . . and grey?

The yellow, blonde, or white Morels, are five species of Morchella, in the section Esculenta, clade Morchella.

These species are: 
  • Morchella americana
  • Morchella diminutiva
  • Morchella sceptriformis
  • Morchelal ulmaria
  • Morchella prava
Now, here's the surprise, for many: so are the grey Morels. 

No, really. 

So far, all of the genetic studies done on samples of Morchella from North America, have all been confirmed to be immature specimens of one of the aforementioned yellow Morels. The only exception to this has been the western species, Morchella tomentosa, which is grey-black throughout its lifetime. 

Black is the new black. . .

So that pretty much leaves us with just black Morels, right? 

The black Morel species (section Elata, Distantes clade), in North America are: 
  • Morchella brunnea
  • Morchella populiphila
  • Morchella sextelata
  • Morchella snyderi
  • Morchella tomentosa
  • Morchella andgusticeps
  • Morchella punvtipes
  • Morchella septentrionalis
  • Morchella exima
  • Morchella exuberans
  • Morchella importuna
  • Morchella tridentina
  • Morchella eohespera
  • Morchella hispaniolensis
  • and two species which hadn't, at the time of the study, been given specific epithets. 
These are the black Morels of North America. . . except when they aren't. 

For example, we've already discussed M. tomentosa - the grey black Morel. 

Or, there's M. tridentina, which is, photogenically and morphologically, a black Morel - but is blonde in color and never blackens (well, until it's very, very, very rotten). 

But, wait! There's more!

In addition to these two groups of Morels, there is a third section and clade of Morchella - Rufobrunnea. 

This includes the European species, Morchella anitolica and the North American species, Morchella rufobrunnea.

Rufobrunnea is a "mulch Morel" which is named for its distinctive red-brown staining. But, some folks, unfamiliar with it, might call it a yellow Morel, or even a white Morel. 

White was that?

Long have there been rumors of white Morels. Yes, they exist, but they are just very light-colored specimens of known species or yellow Morels. There is no currently known species that is consistently white, or would bear the common name, "white Morel". 


Those black Morels (even the half-free ones) are all perfectly edible. There's nothing wrong with them. 

Those white Morels are really yellow. 

Those grey Morels, unless you're picking, in a fire on the west side of the continent, are really yellows, and given time, most of them will get larger and show it.

There you have it, the greys, the blacks, the yellows, whites, and reds.... All the colors of the Morchella rainbow! 

Thanks for reading, and happy hunting! 


Franck Richard, Jean-Michel Bellanger, Philippe Clowez, Karen Hansen, Kerry O’Donnell, Alexander Urban, Mathieu Sauve, RĂ©gis Courtecuisse & Pierre-Arthur Moreau (2015) True morels (Morchella, Pezizales) of Europe and North America: evolutionary relationships inferred from multilocus data and a unified taxonomy, Mycologia, 107:2, 359-382, DOI: 10.3852/14-166