Saturday, May 19, 2012

Alabama Chanterelles

A smooth chanterelle (Cantharellus confluens) emerges from the leaf litter.  This was just one of three edible chanterelle species that I have found in the last week.
      Last week, I left the Florida coastline behind and moved to Auburn.  I left behind ample outdoor recreational opportunities in Navarre, and hoped Auburn would be able to provide some new experiences.  From the moment I arrived in Auburn I noticed how green and verdant it was.  The mesic soil supports more hardwoods than I was used to seeing in Florida (excepting some unique Florida steephead ravine habitats).  The abundant wildflowers and lush plants make these Alabama forests especially inviting, but this post is not about plant life.  Instead it is about some amazing organisms that spend most of their lives under the thick, rich leaf litter mingling with tree roots.  Unnoticed beneath the forest floor are hyphae, filamentous growths of fungi, that form mats of mycelia.  While the mycelia may be hard to notice, the fruiting bodies that form when two compatible mycelia meet and reproduce are more easily noticed.  This is especially true when the fruiting bodies are bright-colored, edible mushrooms such as the chanterelles.
      This area got over two inched of rain last weekend which I believe made this week good for chanterelle gathering.  Most of the chanterelles I found were smooth chanterelles (Cantharellus confluens) but I also found some golden chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) and some cinnabar-red chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus).  At first I thought the smooth chanterelles were Cantherallus lateritius, but they were almost always growing in pairs which lead me to believe that they were Cantharellus confluens ("confluens" refers to the fact that they occur together, i.e. in pairs).  The distinction isn't too important though, because mushroom experts don't even agree if the two are distinct species (Weber and Smith 1985).  Regardless of the species, the chanterelles were associated with hardwoods and seemed most abundant along the hard-packed ground along trails, and the dry drainages that led to creeks.

Chanterelles are usually easy to spot on the forest floor because they are bright yellow.  However, when there is heavy leaf litter they can be camouflaged.  When you find one, search around and make sure there aren't others nearby that are hidden under leaves.  Note how these two are growing in pairs indicating that they are C. confluens.
Some cinnabar-red chanterelles stand out against brown leaves.
The underside of a cinnabar-red chanterelle showing the distinctive false gills that are characteristic of many chanterelles (although they are not very distinct on smooth chanterelles).
Here is another shot of a chanterelle.  The color contrasts nicely with the green moss.  

       I am not going to write much about identification because it is available elsewhere, and I do not consider myself a mushroom expert.  There are probably better people to learn from.  I just wanted to let everyone know that now is the time to go searching (at least if you are in the southeast).  Like any wild edible, make sure that you are absolutely sure about what you are eating*.  It is your responsibility to identify what you eat.  Also, use caution.  I saw some jack o' lantern mushrooms too.  I don't really think that they look similar to chanterelles, but people have confused them in the past resulting in poisoning.
      I also saw a bunch of other mushrooms many of which I couldn't identify.  Unfortunately, my camera died before I was done hiking so I missed out on a lot of cool photos.  Here are some mushrooms I was able to photograph.  Hopefully, my new book, Mushrooms of the Southeastern United States will arrive soon.  It should help with identification.
I don't know what this is.  Feel free to comment.

This could possibly be the edible sweettooth*.  I'm not sure.

The underside of the mushroom shown in the previous photo.

This is the same mushroom as the previous photo, but a different view.

This is the same mushroom as the previous photo.  I don't know what it is.  

A cool looking bolete (I think).

I've heard that some coral fungi are edible*.  I haven't looked into it.  With mushrooms,  I focus on learning one new group at a time.

      That's all the writing for tonight.  I have to wake up early sand record some fish sounds so I need to get to sleep.

*Note:  It is your responsibility to correctly identify any fungi that you plan on eating.  Consult a local expert and/or an accurate field guide.  Do not eat any wild fungus unless you are 100% sure of its identity.

Nancy Smith Weber and Alexander H. Smith. A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor Michigan. 1985 pp.61-64.


  1. Chris,
    I really enjoyed your great mushroom photos and stories. Happy hunting!

  2. I need to focus more some mushroom hunting up here in DC. There are some local parks just outside my apartment that probably have tons of edibles laying around. Maybe next time you are up here you can help me search! I finally bought the Field Guide to edible plants