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.
Main Photo courtesy of Bruce Brown
We have several species of Cantharellus in Alabama including C.'s 'cibarius', cinnabarinus, laterius, appalachiensis, tabernensis, confluens, ignicolor, lewisii, and several more, many of which have yet to be described. All chanterelles will be colored from white to yellow to orange to dull-yellow/tan, and some even have pink 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'.
Both of these are Cantharellus sp, on the left C. laterius (the smooth chanterelle) barely has any ridges while the right image C. tabernesis 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.
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.
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. Use the link below
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.
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 C.'s 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.
Image courtesy of Alicia Brown
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. Image courtesy of 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.
Picture 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, please do still heat appropriately prior to consumption.
Photo courtesy of Harold Bannin
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 courtesy of Alicia Brown
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.