Chanterelles in the Tennessee Valley


In the first of two pictures below, you see (from Left to Right) the red Cantharellus cinnabarinus, cinnibar chanterelle; Cantharellus persicinus, peach chanterelle; Cantharellus lateritius, smooth chanterelle; and Cantharellus cibarius, the golden chanterelle. The second picture is Cantharellus appalachiensis. I have found all four of these in close proximity to each other. The black chanterelles, such as Black Trumpet, are subject to another discussion , when I find some  :-(

A few of my experiences
I find red cinnabars mostly near creek edges, especially growing in moss clumps.  More infrequently, I find them on the mosses or bare earth around root balls of fallen hardwoods. They have little taste but add color to dishes with yellow chanterelles.
C. appalachiensis has a small stipe (stem) and is not very meaty. It is distinguished from the others by the dark center spot on the cap. Under magnification, one can see this is actually a cluster of dark “scales or hairs. These mushrooms can disintegrate in your basket under the weight of other mushrooms. They are fairly uncommon, and are found in the own groups, or less frequently near a golden chanterelle patch.
The golden chanterelle is the most frequent one in my area, with the smooth chanterelle interspersed. You can find them in large patches covering a hillside or in groups of a dozen or less. If you find them single, they may be an outlier of a larger patch, so circle the area.

Where do I find them?
     “In the woods” is the standard answer , from one forager to another. But generally speaking, I have come up with a few rules of thumb which have worked for me in the Tennessee Valley, which I can share. Every region of the country has its own ecological relationships, so it’s best to make careful observations of your own experiences,  make a hypothesis and then go hunt. Observe the forest type especially, because it can be a powerful indicator of average moisture, along with slope (steepness) and aspect (north vs. south).
Last year, George Lanz and I pooled our experiences, and we decided that a forest type dominated by beech and white oak is ideal for where we forage. Chestnut oak indicates a very dry soil in our area and sweetgum indicates too much moisture. We also look for the occurrence of large New York fern beds. I enjoy looking in them because the yellow/orange of the chanterelle contrasts with the deep green of the fern, and the dense ferns seem to block direct sunlight. I lightly brush the fern tips with my walking stick to reveal the mushrooms.
Slope and aspect are important. The Tennessee Valley is in the “ridge and valley” physiographic province. Long ridges run parallel southwest-northeast and each ridge drains with little “hollers” running more less (meandering) perpendicular to the ridge line. I like to hunt either up or down a holler depending on ease of access. Initially, I walk along the break line – where the slope of the sides blends with the flatness of the bottom of the holler. Then I look for large beech trees either up the slope or toward the drain in the holler. When I find some chanterelles, I decide whether I should traverse up the slope or stay low. Which will maintain the timber type?
Aspect – When I find a significant patch, I generally stay on the contour in both directions before proceeding up or down the slope from the initial find.  As one moves around the rounded sides of a hill, the aspect will become either more or less northerly. The more south facing a slope is, the warmer and drier it will become. I do this when morel hunting too.
When I am in the mountains, I modify this search engine because some of my best finds have been on flats with mixed white pine and upland hardwoods.  Of course, the mountains get twice (90”/yr) the annual rainfall than we (46”/yr) do.

What other mushrooms might be confusing?

William Roody, Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, has good descriptions of two “novice confusers”, one common and one not as much so in my area. I have posted my own pictures below.

With experience, the Jack O’Lantern (above), omphalotus illudens, should be a cinch to distinguish from a chanterelle, BUT in the midst of picking in a large patch a person can make a mistake. Witness my recent experience.

In a flat, open woodland with scattered ferns and medium size timber, we were picking chanterelles when we saw a specimen right in the middle of them that just wasn’t right. It certainly looked like a poisonous Jack O’Lantern, but it was isolated and seemed to be growing right out of the ground, and there was no dead tree or stump nearby that we could observe. Walking around, we noticed four blackened, rotting mushrooms that were Jack O’Lanterns, at the backside base of a tree.The tree was alive but in somewhat weakened condition and must have had some dead roots. That is why I always look at the underside of the cap of each mushroom I pick. This one had bright orange gills. Chanterelles do not; they have ridges.

FYI: A tree is considered weakened when its crown (leafy limbs region) is less than one-third the total height of the tree.

The second picture is of Hygrophoropsis aurantica (left). I picked this one a couple of years earlier in the same patch. It was also tempting to call it a chanterelle, but I felt it might be H. aurantica .  It very similar to a specimen that I had found earlier growing in deep, rich debris under a dead log. I checked it out with my friend, Jay Justice. I was correct. It was another case of the freshness and color being slightly different than the images in my guide books.

Final Questions      I have been told that there are only two questions left to answer in the arena of foraging for mushrooms:

(1) Why here and not there? (2) Why now and not then?

I’m still struggling to find the answer, and every winter I think I have it, and every mushroom season I realize I’m not even close. However, the more you are in the woods, the better your prospects! Good Luck and Good Eats.


One thought on “Chanterelles in the Tennessee Valley

  1. Okay… I really REALLY like the “prettiness” of the “Cantharellus cinnabarinus”. The color is gorgeous!!!

    I really need to try to eat some mushrooms. Do you know anyone that cooks them? :)

    Friday – this Friday – I am going to find some woods in my ‘hood and I’m going to find some mushrooms. I’ll let you know how that works out, okay?

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