July is the time to find the glorious, apricot-scented, Chanterelle mushrooms, allegedly one the most popular mushrooms in the United States. They tend to pop up after a nice rain around the Fourth of July in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
Mushrooms are as diverse and multicolored as wildflowers.
Many time hikers don’t see them because of all the other natural beauties along the streams and trails that compete for attention. Once you begin to take notice, it is amazing to discover how many different fungi you have been missing!
Chanterelles are mushrooms in the genus Cantharellus and Craterellus. My favorite chanterelle is the bright yellow chanterelle. It just “pops” out as it emerges from the bright green moss or dark leaf litter of the forest floor. In our area and throughout the Eastern part of the United States, what is commonly called a Chanterelle is now known to be a complex of twenty or more different species! The original, true chanterelle mushroom (Cantharellus cibarius) is not known to occur in the U.S.
I have observed them along the edges of the streams and rivulets. They can be up to 5 inches wide and are broadly convex with a slightly depressed center. The surface is usually quite smooth and dry. When the are young their margin is thin and curved inward. As the age the edges lift up and are often wavy.
Chanterelles do not have true gills like a button mushroom or Shiitake. They do have lines underneath their caps that resemble gills, but you can see they’re different on closer inspection. Chanterelles have false gills. False gills are forked ridges or folds, and they do not detach from the stem or cap easily without causing damage to the stem. They look a little as though they are melted onto the mushroom. On chanterelles, the false gills also run down the stem a little way. I think the mushroom resembles a funnel.
There is a poisonous lookalike to the edible chanterelle called the Jack O’ Lantern (Omphalotus illudens). It has similar coloration but it usually grows in clusters and grows on wood. Sometimes that wood is buried on the ground, so you must be absolutely positive with your identification. The “Jack” is a bright orange and becomes brown with age. The Jack O’ Lantern got its name because when the fresh gills are observed in very dark conditions, they emit a green light!
My second favorite mushroom to spot along the trail is also a Chanterelle. It is the Cinnabar Chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) and is much smaller, up to 2 inches wide. It is an almost glowing orange to bring red. It is edible, but I use them as a garnish with meals because they are so striking. They commonly fruit in summer to early fall and are connected with oaks and beech trees. They seem to be more delicate and also have the typical funnel shape common to Chanterelle species. As you walk along the trail your eyes are drawn to their almost luminescent glow on the forest floor.
Most importantly! You should never eat a mushroom-based solely on what you’ve learned online! Be sure to get some practice with a local expert, and never eat anything you can’t positively identify! Although the majority of non-edible mushrooms won’t kill you (although some will!), they can give you gastrointestinal distress that might make you very miserable. Be 100% positive before eating any wild-foraged mushroom. Remember that “All mushrooms are edible once”.