Mushroom species known as chanterelles grow in the wild, where many mushroom foragers search for them to harvest and eat. The term “chanterelle” is used to refer to multiple species of edible mushrooms in the genus Cantharellus. However, chanterelle species grow in the forests of North America and Europe. In the same regions, some notable lookalikes appear, including some that are toxic to humans. In particular, jack-o’lantern (also spelled “jack-o’-lantern”) mushrooms are one of the more common chanterelle lookalikes, with species that also appear in the woods of North America and Europe where foragers seek chanterelles to harvest and eat. Because jack-o’lanterns are inedible, and even considered toxic, it is important to identify which species you have found before you eat anything from the woods!
To help you know which mushroom you have found in the woods, this article compares and contrasts common chanterelle species with two notable jack-o’lantern species. This article should equip you with information to recognize the key differences between these two – so that you know the signs for a mushroom that may be edible and the signs for the jack-o’lantern, which you definitely need to avoid! Let’s dive in and learn more about chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns now.
Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns
|Scientific Name||Cantharellus (genus)||Omphalotus olearius (species in Europe) or Omphalotus illudens (species in North America)|
|Genus||Multiple species are called chanterelles, with the most-common species of chanterelle varying by geographic region. Many chanterelles are species in the Cantharellus genus, though some are species in other genera. Other genera with chanterelle-like species include Craterellus and Gomphus, as well as Polyozellus. In Europe, Cantharellus cibarius is known as a chanterelle, while Cantharellus lateritius is one of the most common in North America.||Omphalotus|
|Common Name||Chanterelle||Jack-o’-lantern, jack-o’lantern|
|Origin||Global (Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America)||Europe and North America|
|Description of Fungus||Chanterelles can be white, orange, or yellow depending on the exact species. Some of the most common species in Europe and North America are orange-hued on the outside but have white flesh on the inside. Some of the most well-known chanterelles, such as Cantharellus cibarius, grow to be medium or large. An average size is 1 to 4 inches across and approximately as tall. Chanterelles have a conical shape and wavy-edged caps and false gills that are actually ridged parts of the mushroom cap and not true, separate gills. They grow in soil at the base of trees.||Omphalotus olearius and Omphalotus illudens are known as inedible or toxic lookalikes for chanterelles. Jack-o’lantern mushrooms bear a slight resemblance to the golden chanterelle species. Jack-o’lanterns also have an orange or yellow color. Unlike true chanterelles, jack-o’lanterns have sharp, separable gills. Jack-o’lantern mushrooms have caps that can be 2 to 8 inches across, with stalks of 2 to 8 inches high. Jack-o’lanterns grow on wood, with caps that can be flat or funnel-shaped, with a curved stem and narrow, sharp gills that are also yellow or bright orange like the caps.|
|Scent||Fruity, sometimes with a taste and fragrance similar to that of a fresh apricot or peach||Sweet, fruity|
|Edibility||Edible||Inedible, with toxic chemicals that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and gastrointestinal distress|
Overview of Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns
Description of Chanterelles
The mushrooms called chanterelles are multiple different fungi species, most of which are members of the Cantharellus genus in the Cantharellaceae family. Some of the most common are golden chanterelles. In Europe, Cantharellus cibarius is the primary chanterelle found growing in the wild. In North America, there are several other chanterelle species, with their availability varying by region. Cantharellus appalachiensis is one of the most widespread in the east and southeastern parts of the United States, growing from Texas to Florida and as far north as New England. Cantharellus roseocanu is also called the rainbow chanterelle, and is particularly prevalent in the western part of the country. You may find it in the Rocky Mountain region as well as the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, Cantharellus elensis grows throughout Canada and midwestern parts of the United States, including Michigan and Illinois.
These represent just a few of dozens of species of chanterelles that grow across the North American continent. Generally, chanterelles appear in forest environments or near trees. There, they appear at the base of trees either as individuals or multiples. The type of tree they grow near depends on the species of chanterelle. In North America, you can find more than 40 different species of chanterelle.
Chanterelles are difficult to cultivate but grow plentifully in the wild. Because of this, they are one of the most commonly foraged types of edible mushrooms. Some common species in North America have a similar appearance to the European species Cantharellus cibarius, which is a yellowy-orange color and has a wavy, funnel-shaped cap. Chanterelles emit a distinctive fruity scent and have a fruity flavor that some call reminiscent of apricots or peaches.
Description of Jack-o’lanterns
The species Omphalotus olearius and Omphalotus illudens are known as jack-o’lantern mushrooms. These species are the inedible counterparts to the edible chanterelles. Jack-o’lanterns look similar to chanterelles. Both have orange or yellow-colored caps and grow to be a similar size. Jack-o’lanterns also emit a somewhat fruity aroma. However, while chanterelles do not have true gills but only ridged fleshy parts of the cap, jack-o’lanterns have sharp gills that are yellow or orange like their caps.
While chanterelles grow in the soil at the base of trees in a forest environment, jack-o’lanterns actually grow on wood. Jack-o’lanterns are saprotrophic. Saprotrophic species gain nutrients from decomposing wood. In north and central Europe, the most pervasive jack-o’lantern species is the poisonous Omphalotus olearius. The North American jack-o’-lantern is the species Omphalotus illudens.
Chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns share some similar physical characteristics. However, while one is edible, the other should not be eaten. Though foraging in the woods to find chanterelles can be a worthwhile and rewarding activity, it is important to learn the differences between the edible chanterelles and their inedible counterparts, including jack-o’lanterns. Thankfully, there are some significant differences between chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns, including their gills, where they grow, and the texture of the mushroom flesh. Let’s look at these differences in more detail now.
Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns: History and Background
Background on Chanterelles
People have long foraged for chanterelles in Europe. There, many recipes incorporate the fruity, rich mushrooms. Originally, researchers believed that the chanterelles found in North America were the same species as the common chanterelle species growing across Europe, Cantharellus cibarius. However, more recently, experts have agreed that Cantharellus cibarius does not grow in North America. Instead, more than 40 different species of chanterelles grow across the North American continent. Many of these have a similar appearance and taste as the European chanterelle, Cantharellus cibarius. Other species of chanterelles grow in other parts of the world as well, including in Asia and South America.
European and North American chanterelles grow in forests, where they enjoy a symbiotic relationship with tree species. Though they grow in the soil, their mycelium attaches to the roots of trees, where they help trees gain nutrients and water. In return, the mushrooms gain nutrients from the tree roots. This symbiotic relationship does make chanterelles challenging to cultivate, so they are currently only available when foraged from the forests. As a result, chanterelles do not appear in grocery stores and markets as often as commercially cultivated mushroom species such as shiitakes and white button mushrooms.
Background on Jack-o’lanterns
Chanterelles have a few lookalikes that also grow in forest environments, but are not edible. One major lookalike is the jack-o’lantern mushroom. Like chanterelles, different species of jack-o’lanterns grow in Europe and North America. The European jack-o’lantern is Omphalotus olearius, while the North American is Omphalotus illudens. Both appear in similar wooded environments where they are among the brightest-colored mushrooms growing in the forest. Another lookalike, the false chanterelle, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, is similarly prevalent across Europe and parts of North America. Though false chanterelles are not extremely toxic, they have chemicals that can cause illness symptoms in those who eat them.
Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns: Appearance
Chanterelles, including Cantharellus cibarius and various North American species, are typically small to medium-sized mushrooms. The caps grow to be several inches across and a few inches high, typically no larger than 4 inches wide and 4 inches tall. The mushrooms grow in a funnel shape and have wavy edges, thick stems, and ridges that appear to be gills, but are actually inseparable from the mushroom caps themselves. Chanterelles are orange or yellow in color, but can be white, and have white flesh on the inside. These mushrooms grow near the base of trees in proximity to the roots, often near oaks or other hardwood species. They grow in the soil, not on the wood itself, and can be found individually or in clusters.
While jack-o’lanterns are also orange, their color is often more vibrant than that of the chanterelle. While their caps can grow to be a similar size, from a few inches across up to 6 inches wide, jack-o’lanterns are found growing on wood and not poking up from the soil. Additionally, their orange color carries throughout the entire mushroom cap and stem. When cut open, the inside flesh will also be orange in color, compared to the paler white of the chanterelle.
Though both chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns can grow in a conical or funnel shape, one of the most significant differences that separates chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns is the presence of gills. While chanterelles do not have true gills, and only false, gill-like ridges, jack-o’lanterns have true gills. These are narrow, sharp, can be separated, and are bright orange in color.
Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns: Growing Conditions
Chanterelle Growing Conditions
Chanterelles are mycorrhizal. This means that chanterelles grow in a symbiotic relationship with trees, appearing in the soil at the base of trees, where they support the health and flourishing of live trees while gaining nutrients from the tree roots in the ground. As mycorrhizal mushrooms, the chanterelle mycelium helps expand the surface area that the tree roots can access to absorb nutrients. This also brings a benefit for the mushroom, as the chanterelle needs nutrients from the tree to survive. The tree species they grow near vary depending on the chanterelle species, with some growing in the soil above the roots of pine or hemlock trees, while others need hardwood species such as oak.
You can begin looking for small mushroom fruits to pop up in the summer. During the warmer months, they will begin to appear in the moist and mossy soil near the bottom of trees. These will grow over the course of the season, into autumn months, and can last into the winter season.
Their symbiotic relationship with trees has prevented chanterelles from being effectively commercially cultivated, though research is still developing. Because of this, chanterelles are foraged from the woods during their growing season. Look for chanterelles to pop up during the summer and remain in the forest until the late autumn or early winter months.
Jack-o’Lantern Growing Conditions
In contrast, though jack-o’lanterns also grow in similar forest environments, their needs are very different. Rather than enjoying a symbiotic relationship with trees the way that chanterelles do, jack-o’lantern species develop on wood and can be found on wood rather than in the soil near trees. They do not support the flourishing of live trees the way that chanterelles do, but rather, attach to dead or decaying logs or living trees. There they can cause tree rot and contribute to the wood decay.
Though this may sound negative, they play a vital role in the ecosystem. Fungi like jack-o’lanterns that feed on dead wood serve to “clean up” the forest. They break down dead hardwood trees, such as oaks, and return nutrients to the forest soil. Though they do not serve to strengthen trees, fungi like jack-o’lantern mushrooms play an important role in the decomposition process which is also essential to a thriving forest environment.
Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns: Taste
Both chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns emit a pleasant, fruity aroma. Chanterelles are sometimes described as having a fruity taste and scent, similar to that of a peach or apricot. Similarly, jack-o’lanterns have a sweet-smelling fragrance that is less like the typical earthy mushroom smell and more like that of an edible fruit. This smell is said to reflect a similar fruity flavor. Though jack-o’lantern mushrooms are poisonous, those who have consumed them report that they have a pleasant taste. However, you should not eat jack-o’lanterns under any circumstances because they do contain chemicals that are toxic to humans.
Chanterelles vs. Jack-o’lanterns: Health Impacts and Uses
Chanterelles are consumed for their culinary value and purported health benefits. In countries throughout Europe, they often appear in recipes for meat such as venison, pasta, and other dishes. Chanterelles are a good source of protein and offer multiple vitamins and minerals. If you are looking to increase your intake of vitamins A, C, D, or E, add chanterelles to your diet! You will also find them rich in beta-carotene, copper, and lycopene. Mushrooms are also a good source of fiber.
To eat chanterelles, identify them in comparison to their inedible lookalikes, pluck them from the soil, and cook thoroughly but tenderly. It is typically not recommended to eat chanterelles raw, but cooks recommend sauteing or gently cooking in a pan with butter in order to keep the chanterelle’s delicate texture and flavor.
It is important to identify chanterelles and be entirely confident that they are not one of their poisonous lookalikes. Jack-o’lanterns may look similar to chanterelles and reportedly taste pleasant, but they are toxic and can cause multiple symptoms. For that reason, if you have any doubt about the identity of a wild mushroom, do not consume it. Accidentally consuming a jack-o’lantern can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms of poisoning. If you believe you may have accidentally consumed an inedible mushroom, immediately seek medical attention.
One additional way to verify if a mushroom might be a jack-o’lantern is to see if it glows in the dark! Jack-o’lanterns gained their name both for their orange color and for some bioluminescence – with the strength of this quality varying depending on the species and individual mushroom. Find a dark space to inspect the mushroom. If it seems to glow, do not eat it!
How do You Tell the Difference Between a Real Chanterelle and a False Chanterelle?
There are quite a number of ways to differentiate between these two types of mushrooms, starting with the cap. Mushrooms with funnel-shaped caps, that are vibrant golden-yellow to pale orange in color, should have certain textures. If you touch the cap and it feels velvety, this is a false chanterelle. You should also check the underside of the cap where there are ‘gills’. Chanterelles have false gills, that are thicker in appearance, with more fork-like ridges, rather than super thin gills.
If you still aren’t sure, you can scrape these gills, or ridges, and check for sturdiness. A true chanterelle’s gills, or false gills, should be difficult to scrape away, while a false chanterelle’s gills will scrape off rather easily. You should also inspect the stem, which on the real chanterelle will be the same color as the cap and rather sturdy. A false chanterelle has a stem that is brighter in color.
As we learned, chanterelles and jack-o’lanterns have a lot in common: their color, scent, and growing environment. However, by inspecting the inside of the mushroom flesh, the gills, and where it is growing, you should be able to identify whether the mushroom you have found is an edible chanterelle or an inedible jack-o’lantern. Take this knowledge with you as you search for mushrooms in the forest, and make sure you are 100% confident in the mushroom species before you eat anything you harvest from the woods.
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- Iowa State, Available here: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2005/11-9/jack.html#:~:text=The%20mushrooms%20are%20produced%20in,it%20is%20poisonous%20to%20humans.
- Missouri Dept of Conservation, Available here: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/jack-o-lantern
- Ohio State, Available here: https://bygl.osu.edu/node/557
- Cornell Extension, Available here: https://monroe.cce.cornell.edu/agriculture/seasonal-produce-highlights/mushrooms
- Oregon State, Available here: https://tourism.oregonstate.edu/chanetrelles-cantharellus-formosus/