Gyromitra esculenta, a false morel


A phylogenetic tree including domain, supergroup, and kingdom of the false morel
tree created by Dr. Gretchen Gerrish, based on molecular data

Domain: Eukarya
    A domain is the highest classification of living organisms.  There are only three: Bacteria, Archea, and Eukarya.  All eukaryotes have membrane-bound organelles and a true nucleus.  Other than that, the group is extremely diverse.  It contains everything from an Asian elephant to a cottonwood tree to a diatom

 Supergroup: Opisthokonta
    Supergroups are relatively new classifications.  It was previously believed that there were only four kingdoms of eukaryotes: animals, plants, fungi, and protists.  Bacteria were even considered a kingdom before domains were used.  Now, however, we know there are 22-24 kingdoms of eukaryotes contained within seven supergroups.  Organisms in the opisthokonta are characterized by having posterior flagella at some point in the life cycle.  Fungi are classified under this group because they had motile spores at some point in their evolutionary history.  However, the only group of fungi whose spores still move are the chitridiomycota.  Humans are opisthokonts too because sperm is flagellated.     

   Kingdom: Fungi
    Despite the rearranging of the upper levels of classification, the kingdom fungi has endured.  Organisms in this kingdom are classified as being heterotrophic, non-vascular, reproducing via spores, and having an alteration of generations.  An example of a fungus is the jelly ear mushroom. (Auricularia auricula-judae

the fungal phyla

Phylum: Ascomycota
    The five phyla of fungi (above) are based on their method of producing sexual spores.  There is also a group called the deuteromycetes, or imperfect fungi, and they have no known sexual stage.  An example of this is the fungus responsible for making penicillinIf a sexual stage is discovered in one of these fungi, they are moved to one of the five other phyla.  The ascomycota have sexual spores (ascospores) borne internally in a sac-like structure called an ascus.  Their asexual spores (conidia) are borne externally on a conidophore.  The fungus Cordyceps subsessilis is also in the phylum ascomycota.

A phylogenetic tree including class, order, and genus for the false morel

tree based on SSU and LSU rDNA genes, redrawn from the journal Mycologia

Class: Pezizomycetes
    These fungi have asci that rip open to form a lid-like structure called an operculum (below).
An ascus showing the operculum and ascospores
photo courtesy of George Barron

Order: Pezizales
    The pezizales are the only order of the pezizomycetes.

   Family: Discinaceae
The fungi in this family are variable; they can grow above or below ground.  The surface of the fruiting bodies is brown and sometimes contorted.  The stalk of the mushroom can also be contorted.  The asci can be cylindrical or sac-like, with a rounded tip.  Spores can be anywhere from brown to transparent.   

   Genus: Gyromitra
    The name Gyromitra comes from the greek word guros, meaning a turn, and mitra meaning head.  Fungi in this genus have convoluted caps. 

A false morel mushroom       Species: Gyromitra esculenta  
As mentioned earlier, the name esculenta means edible, somewhat paradoxically in this situation.  The genus Gyromitra has not been extensively tested for DNA similarities.  Therefore, the classification of species is more based on what they look like, not molecular data.  Gyromitra esculenta is classified by the fact that it fruits in spring, has a skinny stem with no bumps, and the cap is wrinkled and more reddish than brown.
    Now that you know how this fungus fits into the tree of life, learn about how it survives on the nutrition page. 


Photo courtesy of Owen Burnham