The Chanterelles (by )

Mushroom of the Month: December, 2013

One of the first wild mushrooms that beginning foragers seek out is our local golden chanterelle. That is most likely because it is relatively abundant, is easy to recognize and has a reputation for being a good edible. For many years, these mushrooms went by the Latin name Cantharellus cibarius. That species, however, was originally described from northern France and our early mycologists used that same name for our local version exhibiting what appeared to be the same characteristics. It was only recently that the various different chanterelle species have been given their own unique names.

In a paper (2008) written by David Arora (local mycologist, author of the popular field guide, Mushrooms Demystified, and founder of the Fungus Federation) with co-author Susie Dunham, three distinct species of golden chanterelles

Cantharellus formosus by Ron Pastorino

Cantharellus roseocanus were described. These were based upon collections from a variety of habitats, including our own local live oak/mixed woodlands.  As originally described by Scott Redhead, et. al.  (1997), Arora and Dunham’s descriptions confirmed that the chanterelles growing with Tsuga (hemlock) or Pseudotsuga (douglas fir) species in northern California and the Pacific Northwest are Cantharellus formosus. That species is smaller than our local version, has a slender stem, tends to grow upward in the duff rather than deeply buried, and exhibits pinkish tones in its coloration. Also confirmed in Arora and Dunham’s work was the species C. cibarius, var. roseocanus, originally described by Redhead, et. al. (1997) as an associate of Picea (spruce) species in the Pacific Northwest.This species, now referred to by most as just C. roseocanus, exhibits an intensely pigmented yellow hymenium (the spore-bearing surface).

Of more immediate interest to us here in central California, the last distinct golden chanterelle Arora and Dunham isolated from the DNA studies conducted on their collections was the large one we find in our local live oak (Quercus agrifolia) and mixed evergreen woodlands. At that point this species, shown to be distinct from Cantharellus californicus by Ken Stavropoulos the other species, was unnamed. The authors named it C. californicus. As our luck would have it, that species is considered one of, if not, the largest species in the world, some specimens weighing in over one kilogram (2.2 pounds)! Although live oak is the primary ectomycorrhizal host of C. californicus, it also associates to a lesser extent with tanbark oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) and several oaks found in the Sierra Nevada mountains (Shreve oak (Quercus parvula, var. shrevei), interior or Sierra live oak (Q. wislizenii) and black oak (Q. kelloggii)).

Although not a local central California species, another golden chanterelle is C. cascadensis, a species described by Dunham, et. al. (2003) from the Douglas fir forests of the Cascade Mountains. That species has the familiar yellowish coloration on the cap surface but its hymenium is  very pale, essentially white.  Cantharellus cascadensis


The feature common to the inclusive group of mushrooms termed “chanterelles” is the presence of the thick, blunt, shallow and decurrent gills. With some possible exceptions, most are considered edible. They also Cantharellus subalbidus by David Rust come in a range of colors besides the golden discussed earlier: white, black, red and blue. The white chanterelle, C. subalbidus, is a common species growing with tanoak or in Manzanita mixed with knobcone pine. In my experience, it is more common north of San Francisco than locally. The black chanterelle Cantharellus cinereus by Shane (C. cinereus) grows locally in mixed oak habitat solitary or in scattered groups or clusters. Personally, I have only found it when picking black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopiodes) Craterellus cornucopioides by Ron Lawrence especially in a tanoak habitat. It closely resembles the black trumpets in characteristics and taste but is solid versus tubular and has the shallow blunt gills versus a smooth hymenium. Neither the tiny red chanterelle (C. cinnebarinus) nor the blue (Polyozellus multiplex) grows locally so no more than this mention will be featured here. Cantharellus cinnabarinus by Christian Schwarz Polyozellus multiplex by Sava Krstic

Another chanterelle worth describing is the “winter chanterelle” or “yellow foot” since we often find many of these growing on our forays to the Mendocino area north of San Francisco. These mushrooms are relatively small, have a deep funnel shape (infundibuliform) in the cap, brown to dark brown to dingy yellow-brow cap color, and a thin, flattened, orange-yellow to yellow stem. It is normally found in mossy areas, on old rotting logs and in cold, damp areas in coniferous forests and bogs. This is another Cantharellus tubaeformis by Ryane Snow common edible that can grow in large numbers and if frequently purchased by commercial mushroom buyers. For many years,this has been called Cantharellus infundibuliformis but the name has been changed to Craterellus tubaeformis.

Gomphus clavatus by Mary Smiley Two other “chanterelles” deserve mention here since we frequently encounter them on our forays to the Mendocino area. Both are considered chanterelles because of the resemblance of the shallow, blunt gills to the more common species already discussed. Both are in the genus Gomphus. The first, G. clavatus (pig’s ears) is a conifer associate that grows in fused or compound clusters and is typically a light purple to purplish-tan paling in age to olive/yellowish-buff. It is considered an edible species. The other conifer-loving Gompus is G. floccosus, the scaly or wooly chanterelle. These tall, trumpet to vase-shaped mushrooms have caps that are orangish to yellowish-orangish often fading in color. The gill surface is creamy, buff  or yellowish. This, too, is considered an edible species like G. clavatus, but few people that I’ve met collect them for the table.

Gomphus floccosus

May other species of chanterelles can be found in the rest of the world and are regularly collected as prime edible species. Only the west coast species have been considered for this article, however.

Literature cited:

Arora, D. and Dunham, S. M. 2008. A new, commercially valuable chanterelle species, Cantharellus californicus sp. nov., associated with live oak in California, USA. Economic Botany 62 (3); 376-391.

Dunham, S. M., O’Dell, T.E., and Molina R. 2003. Analysis of nrDNA sequences and microsatellite allele frequencies reveals a cryptic chanterelle species, Cantharellus cascadensis sp. nov. from the American Pacific Northwest. Mycological Research 107 (10); 1163-1177.

Redhead, S. A., Norvell, L.L., and Danell, E. 1997. Cantharellus formosus and the Pacific Golden Chanterelle Harvest in Western North America. Mycotaxon 65: 285-322.