This  section is a quick explanation of some of the identifying  characteristics of Cantharellus (chanterelles) and the closely related  Craterellus (trumpets) which fall into the taxonomic family Cantharellaceae.
As with all of these pages, they are NOT intended to be used as a key or  diagnostic tool, but a guide of basic identifying characteristics so  that you can make informed decisions and easy-access to other, more  detailed resources. 
Banner photo by: Bruce Brown

Edibility Basics

Chanterelles (Cantharelus) 

Many Species, Similar Key Characteristics

We have several species of Cantharellus in Alabama and the work to describe them all and determine their actual range is on-going.
All chanterelles are colored somewhere in the range of white to yellow to orange to dull-yellow/tan, and some even have pink false gills! They also share a few other key characteristics:

False Gills

One  of the key characteristics for almost all chanterelles is that they  have deep ridges rather than true 'gills' underneath their caps. Think  of true gills as blades or pages in a book (right image) and  chanterelles having ridges or wrinkles (left image). 

Furthermore,  the vast majority of chanterelles will have a depressed or even  trumpet-like top, and in all cases will have gills that run down the  stipe (stem/stalk) known as 'decurrent'.

Variable Ridge Depth

Both of these are Cantharellus species.
On the left C. laterius (the smooth chanterelle) barely has any ridges while the right image C. tabernensis has deep ridges (still not gills!). These deep ridged species can be  more difficult to get a good ID on but often have wrinkled or furrowed  regions between the main gill structures. Importantly, the gills are  easily separated from the rest of the cap and typically run down the cap  (decurrent) as you can see in the right-most image.

Tear Easily,
Like String Cheese

Forked, False Gills

Growth Patterns

Chanterelles  will tear easily down the vertical axis (from cap to bottom) and will  be lightly stringy kind of like string cheese. Pull the stipe in half  (lengthwise) and pull the whole fruitbody apart to get a feel for this  texture. The stem should NOT be hollow.

Another  classic characteristic of chanterelles is that the gills fork (not to  be confused with lamellulae [short gills that do not reach the stalk]).  You should be able to see where the smaller ridges near the cap margin  (edge) physically connect to the larger ridges which run down the stalk  (decurrent). 

Chanterelles are mycorrhizal (they associate with trees) and are found growing individually, in small clusters, or gregariously ON THE GROUND (never On wood!). Be immediately suspicious if you see them growing all  from a central point or if they have scales on top. See below for  look-a-likes.

Look A Likes

Omphalotus illudens/olearius

Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

Omphalotus  illudens and  olearius are commonly called the jack-o'lantern mushrooms  and will make you quite ill if you eat it. They grow in a tight cluster  and are often similar shades of yellow/orange as many chanterelles. 

Defining difference is that Omphalotus have true gills! They are also saprobic (they eat dead/dying wood), but that's not as easy to spot.
More about
 Omphalotus illudens.

Hygrophoropsis  aurantiaca have a somewhat superficial resemblance to chanterelles in  that they are often brightly colored and have a flattened cap that may  become slightly depressed. These mushrooms are softer and easy to break  along the stem (unlike the more durable chanterelle). These also sport true gills. 

More about Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca 

Black Trumpets and Horns of Plenty (Craterellus)

Several Tasty Species

Like Cantharelus, Craterellus falls within the Cantharellaceae family and is a fairly diverse genus  with all known species considered edible, and often choice. Common  species in Alabama include Craterellus fallax, calyculus, tubaeformis,  ignicolor, and odoratus (though there are likely to be more, some of  which may be subspecies of C. fallax group). This entire genus will have  a distinctive earthy and quite pleasant fragrance that is sometimes  even fruity.

Photo by Alicia Brown

Craterellus fallax

Craterellus ignicolor/tubaeformis

Craterellus odoratus

The  archetypal black trumpet is probably Craterellus fallax. This mushroom  (like most of the genus Craterellus) has a deeply depressed center of  the stipe which forms the classic "trumpet" shape. The tissue of the  cap/stipe is thinner than most of their cousins in the genus Cantharelus  and this was used as a taxonomical division characteristic for some  time but is a depreciated characteristic for that distinction.
More about C. fallax

Photo by: Alicia Brown

Craterellus ignicolor sometimes called "yellowfoot chanterelles" are actually Craterellus sp.  but lack the deep depression of the cap and have a morphology closer to  Cantharelus. These are often found in cooler weather. A similar species  is Craterellus tubaeformis which is associated with conifers and often has a darker brown cap.
More about C. ignicolor

Photo by: Tim Pfitzer

Perhaps one of the most fragrant and colorful of the Craterellus species, C. odoratus is named for its potent aroma. The fruitbody is delicate but stands out  against the dull forest floor. This delicate fruit may be better suited  for a specialty cocktail or dessert rather than the pan, tho it does still need to be heated appropriately prior to consumption.  

Photo by: Harold Bannin

Wide Genus Morphology

Craterellus is a genus with several morphological options, sometimes with a distinctive pileus (cap) such as in C. ignicolor/tubaeformis, and sometimes the whole fruitbody is a deep trumpet (as in C. fallax).  Ornamentation is also variable, but all species within the genus lack  true gills and will be fairly thin-fleshed. Mycorrhrizal with hardwoods,  often found growing out of moss, growing alone, scattered,  gregariously, or in loose clusters (only rarely in tightly packed  clusters of many mushrooms).

Photo by: Alicia Brown

Look A Likes

Urnula craterium

Perhaps the most potentially convincing look-a-like for black trumpets is the mature form of the ascocarp known as  Urnula craterium. This mushroom is actually a cup-fungus and will lack some of the ornamentation seen in C. fallax. 
U. craterium are also more common in early Spring, before most Craterellus fruit. These are not a toxic look-a-like, however, and are actually considered edible, although not very palatable. 

Please remember to seek other sources for confirmation before consuming any wild mushroom

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