Foraging for Fungi West of 105
From morels and porcini to oysters and chanterelles, there is a wealth of edible mushrooms available in the hills of the Centennial state. Photo: Andreas Ebner
Foraging for mushrooms, even if you come home empty-handed, is at the minimum a lovely walk through the woods. If you happen to stumble on a patch of porcini or a cluster of chanterelles, all the better. And it is as enjoyable whether you’re in a small group, with another person, or just with your dog.
When to Forage for Mushrooms in Colorado
Foraging for mushrooms in Colorado begins in earnest around May and runs, depending on the kind of fungi you’re looking for, until sometime in October. It’s in the midst of summer, between mid-July to mid-August that hunting, especially for choice edibles like porcini, heats up in the hills.
Andy Wilson, the former president of the Colorado Mycological Society, says that mid-July through late September is the best window, with the peak typically coming around mid-August. “It all comes down to the summer monsoons,” he says, “and how much rain hits the forests and plains. Also, if there was a good snowpack the winter before, the ground stays moist longer so fungi can do their thing.”
What kind of Mushrooms to Forage for in Colorado
There are plenty of edible mushrooms that grow across the state, most prized of which are oysters, porcini, chanterelles and matsutake, but there are plenty of other delicious species including shaggy mane, wood ear, enoki, and hawk’s wing. However, the generally accepted king of mushrooms is the morel, thanks to its meaty flavor and texture.
Where to Forage for Mushrooms in Colorado
This is the toughest question to ask a mushroom forager. It’s like asking a pirate where they buried their treasure. You can usually find a few generous souls in foraging groups online that might guide you in the right direction, but where to find mushrooms is largely a secret, and the hunt is part of the fun anyway. Perhaps the best way to find out (and to learn about foraging generally) is to ask around to see if anyone would be interested in having you tag along with them on a hunt.”
A general rule of thumb is that mushrooms tend to sprout at lower elevations earlier in the season, and as the season progresses they can be found at increasingly higher elevations. As the seasons progress some mushrooms become less available and others start sprouting, so knowing what to lookout for, when and where will help you find them and identify the edible varieties.
Mushroom foragers track wildfires because they can produce bumper crops of morels the year following a fire, specifically in the ashes of fires in conifer forests. Referred to as “burn morels,” the scientific term for mushrooms that rise from the ashes is phoenicoid which comes from the same root as the word phoenix, the mythical creature that also sprang from ashes.
Trent and Kristen Blizzard are the creators of Modern Forager, an online resource and community for fungi fans. They’ve been scanning and foraging the woods of the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond for years. They have curated special morel burn maps and an accompanying e-book that will teach you how to use their curated maps and an overview of elevation, forest types, accessibility, necessary permits, lands where you can and cannot hunt, natural indicators, and portable tech you can utilize. The Burn Morels e-book is included with all of their maps.
Death by Mushroom
You only really get to make the mistake of eating a particularly poisonous mushroom once, and that sums up the single most important thing to know when foraging: the difference between what you can eat and what you can’t. These poisonous mushrooms, sometimes even edible mushroom look-alikes, are out there. It is critically important to only go foraging for mushrooms if you are absolutely certain that you know what you’re doing, and even then it doesn’t hurt to have someone else tag along for a second opinion. An illustrated field guide is never a bad idea, either. Your life literally depends on picking the right mushrooms.