Are you interested in foraging for delicious chanterelle mushrooms? If so, then you will likely want to familiarize yourself with their aptly named lookalike, the false chanterelle mushroom. While this species isn’t deadly or seriously poisonous, some report gastrointestinal upset after ingesting this mushroom. Keep reading to ensure you can properly ID this species.
In this guide, we’ll cover the fungal classification of the false chanterelle. We will also look at where it grows and how it relates morphologically to true chanterelles.
So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
The False Chanterelle: Fungal Classification
The false chanterelle is a species of small-medium-sized mushroom in the Hygrophoropsidaceae family. Its scientific name is Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca ( previous Latin names are Clitocybe aurantiaca and Cantharellus aurantiacus). While this mushroom is in an entirely different fungal family than chanterelles (of the Cantharellaceae family), it does feature some macroscopic characteristics that may trick the untrained eye into thinking they have found a true chanterelle.
Features of the False Chanterelle vs. True Chanterelle
At a distance false chanterelle mushrooms may look similar to some species of true chanterelles. Some features that may appear similar at first glance to true chanterelles include the cap and stipe color, gills, the shape of fruiting body, and growing locations.
The cap of Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca is orange-yellow to brownish-orange brownish-yellow. Like some golden chanterelle species, the cap of the false chanterelle can be broadly convex to flat. However, compared to Cantharellus cinnabarinus, the cap of the false chanterelle is less red and doesn’t have distinctly wavy margins at maturity.
The gills of the false chanterelle are forked, soft, decurrent (meaning they run down the stipe), close or crowded, and pale to bright orange. The spore print is white. Since this mushroom is closely related to some of the boletes, it is debate whether we should call these true or false gills.
In comparison, true chanterelles don’t actually have true gills. Rather their spore dispersal tissues are known as false gills or ridges. With true gills, you can run your fingers in between each of the gills, they move when stroked, and you can generally separate them from the fruiting body with ease.
False gills on chanterelles, however, are not easily detached from the rest of the mushroom without causing damage to the cap itself, are slightly rubbery to the touch, and are not as deep or thin as true gills. They are, however, decurrent and forked like false chanterelles. The spore print of chanterelles is white to pale yellow, depending on the species.
So, some field guides will say that one way to distinguish a false chanterelle vs. a true chanterelle is to cut the mushroom in half vertically and see if the mushroom is hollow inside. Old guides will say chanterelles are never hollow inside. However, DNA analysis in modern mycology has helped place over 20 species in North America alone into the Cantherellus genus, some of which are at least partially hollow inside. Many similar mushrooms in the genus Craterellus are hollow inside.
An example of this is Cantherellus appalachiensis, which becomes somewhat hollow with age, particularly in the stipe. Most of these older guides are comparing Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca with Cantherellus cibarius (golden chanterelle). However, we now know that this species of chanterelle does not even exist in North America.
Therefore, regarding the stipe, you’ll notice that false chanterelles tend to have stipes that taper toward the cap. In contrast, mature Cantherellus cinnabarinus tend to taper towards the base of the stipe. This tapering towards the base of the stipe is part of what gives many species of chanterelles their funnel-shaped appearance.
Often, people describe chanterelles (including red chanterelles) as having a sweet, mild fragrance like apricots. In comparison, false chanterelle does not tend to have a distinctive odor.
Where They Grow
Now, false chanterelles grow widely across temperate regions of North America, so their growing ranges overlap with many of the 20+ species of true chanterelles. Additionally, they can appear to the untrained eye to grow from the soil like chanterelles.
See, true chanterelles are mycorrhizal with the roots of trees (which tree depends on the chanterelle species), while false chanterelles are saprobic. This means that chanterelles derive their nutrients from a symbiotic plant-fungi relationship, while false chanterelles derive their nutrients from decomposing dead organic matter.
In the case of Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, they decompose leaf litter and well-rotted logs on the forest floor. As such, false chanterelles can appear to be growing from the soil like true chanterelles. If you have found a false chanterelle, you should be able to carefully unbury the area around it and note if it’s growing from rotten wood or leaf litter. You should easily be able to detach false chanterelle from the forest floor since it’s growing from decomposing material on the surface. This contrasts chanterelles, which have deep mycelial networks in the ground.
Are False Chanterelle Mushrooms Edible?
The edibility of Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca is questionable and currently debated. Some guides list it as edible, though not a choice edible, while others list it as mildly poisonous with low toxicity. As is the case with many species of mushrooms that are not highly toxic, reports of edibility can range significantly by culture and region.
Regional cooking practices and knowledge of local fungi can impact the edibility status of mushrooms like a false chanterelle. People who do consume this mushroom typically boil it thoroughly before consuming it. Our current advice, especially for novice mushroomers, is to stick with foraging the many species of deliciously edible true chanterelles.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock.com
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- MushroomExpert.com, Available here: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/hygrophoropsis_aurantiaca.html
- Mountain Lake Biological Station, Available here: https://mlbs.virginia.edu/organism/cantharellus_lateritius
- MushroomExpert.com, Available here: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/cantharellus_appalachiensis.html