#101: Golden Chanterelles
These mushrooms are the mycophagist’s (fungus-eater’s) best friends. They taste great, are large enough to eat, often fruit plentifully, are easy to spot, and are unlikely to be confused with anything else (if you know what to look for). Golden Chanterelles are very popular in Europe. The European species is called the “Griole” in France, while Germans call it the “” These choice edibles can also be found in North America, where they fruit from summer through fall. Look for chanterelles near streams, in hollows, and in other tree-covered places with abundant moisture but good drainage. I recently found some in a small park in Northern Virginia, so they may be more common than you would expect!
Golden Chanterelles are very easy to spot in the forest because of their bright orange to yellow color. They usually fruit gregariously across large areas of forest floor, with one to three mushrooms every couple of feet or so. Chanterelles are mycorrhizal with a variety of tree species, so they are always found fruiting on the ground and never on wood. The pileus of a Golden Chanterelle is at first roughly circular and flattish with a margin that is slightly curved under the cap. As the mushroom matures, the margin flattens out, the center of the cap becomes slightly depressed, and the edge becomes lobed and irregular instead of circle-shaped.
Underneath the cap, you will find that Golden Chanterelles have blunted gills. This feature distinguishes chanterelles from true gilled mushrooms. Most gilled mushrooms have gills that are thin and pointy along the bottom edge, much like a knife blade. Chanterelles, on the other hand, have ridges that are flattened on the top, somewhat akin to the ridges on corrugated cardboard. These ridges fork frequently and are paler than the cap above. How tall the ridges are is variable. Some Golden Chanterelles sport ridges that are nearly as tall as true gills, while others have ridges that are little more than ripples on their undersurface. In either case, the ridges are long decurrent, meaning they extend from the edge of the pileus nearly to the base of the stipe.
The stipe of a Golden Chanterelle is not very remarkable. It is usually the same color as the pileus or slightly paler. Found at the center of the mushroom, the stipe extends no more than two centimeters before merging into the ridges and cap. When sliced, the flesh of the mushroom is whitish to yellowish and does not change on exposure to air. Another identifying feature of Golden Chanterelles is their odor, which is reminiscent of apricots. The spore print of Golden Chanterelles is variable, and can be yellow to pale yellow to cream, sometimes with pink overtones.
If you pay attention to the ridges/gills, it is hard to mistake a Golden Chanterelle for another mushroom. However, sloppy collecting does lead to confusion with a few species of look-alikes (described below). Remember: when in doubt, throw it out!
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca (FFF#196) is commonly known as the “False Chanterelle,” thanks to its resemblance to Golden Chanterelles. H. aurantiaca can be distinguished by its true gills (sharp edges), finely velvety cap, and comparatively thin, soft flesh. It also tends to be more brownish than most chanterelles, to grow on the ground next to decaying wood, and to have a more circular cap. H. aurantiaca is questionably edible. It may be poisonous and its flavor cannot compare to that of Golden Chanterelles, so it is best to avoid this species.
Omphalotus illudens – the “Jack-O-Lantern mushroom” (FFF#007) – is also frequently confused with Golden Chanterelles. It fruits from decaying wood, but that wood is often buried, making the mushroom appear terrestrial. Indeed, the first time I saw O. illudens, I mistook it for a Golden Chanterelle. It is easy to avoid this mistake by checking the gills. O. illudens has true gills with sharp edges that do not fork. The Jack-O-Lantern also tends to grow in dense clusters, while Golden Chanterelles tend to be scattered about. Additionally, its pileus is usually much more regular than a chanterelle’s. O. illudens causes severe gastrointestinal distress and should definitely be avoided. There are a few other Omphalotus species around, all of which could be confused with Golden Chanterelles. Luckily, they all share the above characteristics. The species are primarily differentiated by varying shades of brown and green in their caps. O. illudens has the most orange in its cap, so it is the Omphalotus species most commonly confused with Golden Chanterelles.
I recently read about someone mistaking Laetiporus sulphureus (“Chicken of the Woods”) for a Golden Chanterelle. Honestly, I have no idea how anyone could make this mistake. L. sulphureus is orange on the top, but always grows directly from dead wood, attaches to the wood on the side of the fruiting body, and has bright, yellow pores on its underside. Luckily for this individual, Chicken of the Woods is edible. The moral of this story: always check the underside of your chanterelle! If you look for chanterelles using a “put anything orange in the basket” mentality, it is only a matter of time until you accidently eat some Jack-O-Lanterns.
In Europe, Golden Chanterelles belong to one species named Cantharellus cibarius. In North America, however, it is much more confusing. We still have a species called C. cibarius, but mycologists now know it is not the same species as the European Golden Chanterelle. On top of that, it now appears that there are multiple species of Golden Chanterelles in North America. So far, four have been described four have been described to the west of the Rocky Mountains, and five to the east. There appears to be more variety in Eastern North America, so expect more species to be described in the future. Additionally, my description of Golden Chanterelles is sufficiently broad to include Eastern North American species like C. lateritius (“The Smooth Chanterelle”). Luckily, all Golden Chanterelles are edible. If you are more interested in the culinary aspects of chanterelles than the scientific aspects, you can probably lump all these chanterelles together under the heading “Cantharellus cibarius species cluster.” For the rest of us, it looks like it will take a lot of nitpicking to identify our collections down to species.