The Chanterelles, Cantharellus species
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Chanterelles, most everyone knows and loves them, but many people are eluded by them. When I asked for suggestions regarding future Forage Colorado blog posts "how to find chanterelles" was definitely the most requested topic! I figured I would knock this one out sooner than later so that it might help some people find their first chants (pronounced 'shants' I'll be using this shortened version occasionally in the rest of the post).
Before we get too far into this I want to make something clear, I don't claim to be an expert at finding chanterelles. I have found a lot of them in my life, but very few of those times was I actually specifically looking for them. I often think of the wily chants as more of a super awesome 'by-catch' while looking for other species, and I'm always beyond excited when I happen upon a new patch. That all said, after years of finding them in the Rockies I've noticed some trends that may help you locate some super-secret chanterelle spots of your own. Before we go over those trends, I'll touch on the best traits to know for identifying chanterelles!
There are many species of Cantharellus throughout North America, and elsewhere, however we only have a couple of them in Colorado, maybe... see below. In my experience, the most common species that is definitely found here is the 'redhead' or 'rainbow' chanterelle, Cantharellus roseocanus. Beyond that the species get a little confusing. Previously, many of our North American chanterelles were grouped in with the European species Cantharellus cibarius, the golden chanterelle. However, like many other mushrooms before it, it turns out that C. cibarius is likely only found in Europe and many of our North American species just happen to be similar. All that said, chanterelles are still very easy to properly identify as long as you look for a few key traits.
Chanterelles come in a variety of colors and sizes; from yellows to oranges, and even pinks, and from several inches across to less than an inch! Despite all the variety found in these mushrooms, they all share a few traits that can be used to easily identify them! The first of these is the presence of 'ridges' sometimes called "false gills". This trait is something I often see beginners get confused about because at first glace these ridges may appear to be gills. However, if you look closely there are a few differences. Gills are structurally different from the cap and stem of a mushroom and can be separated from those. Where as ridges are made from folds in the surface of the mushroom, not a separate structure. Below you can see a macro comparison between ridges on Cantharellus roseocanus and gills on a Pluteus species.
Next, chanterelles almost always have whitish flesh that peels like string-cheese when pulled apart. Not only is this a good trait to ID chants with, but it's always an easy way to prep them for the saute pan! Grab the stem and peel into whatever size is desired.
Finally, chants are well known for their fruity aroma, often described as apricot-like. This scent is sometimes hard to detect with just a couple fresh picked specimens, but after you get a handful into your mushroom basket or bag it becomes more obvious.
So, with those traits covered, let's move on to how and where to look for them! In Colorado, chanterelles can be found from around 7,500 to treeline in association with spruce (Picea spp.) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Usually, I find chants in areas with good drainage, and some sunlight. They often fruit around the edges of rocks, logs, or in the Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). In higher elevations they can sometimes be found fruiting along old logging roads, or hiking trails, and in sunny clearings with grouse whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium).
When you happen upon some chanterelles, scour the area because there are often more nearby! And, be sure to GPS mark or mentally note the spot because they'll be back every year that the conditions are right for them! Speaking of which... I have yet to figure out what the perfect chanterelle fruiting conditions are. Some years I find a lot, but the next year of similar conditions can result in very few. My suggestion would be to just regularly check your spots if the conditions seem to suggest fruiting.
If you pay attention to the traits I went over above, then you shouldn't have any issues positively identifying chanterelles. However, we'll touch on one look-a-like than can occasionally fool beginners, the 'false chanterelle', Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca. From above, this mushroom can definitely have the appearance of a chanterelle, but once you look underneath it should become obvious from the gills alone. The false chanterelle also lacks the fruity aroma, and flesh that peels like string-cheese.
As a final note, I mentioned how chants are somewhat of a by-catch, so if you're out looking for them be sure to pay attention to all the other forage-ables out there as well! You can also find porcini, hawks wing, hedgehogs, and many other edible mushrooms in the same habitats, as well as raspberries, strawberries, currants, huckleberries (like grouse whortleberry), and more!
Chanterelles, Cantharellus spp.
Most common species in Colorado is C. roseocanus.
Yellow to yellow orange in color, C. roseocanus can have a pinkish blush on cap.
Ridges or "false gills" on undersurface.
White flesh peels like string-cheese.
Fruity, apricot-like aroma especially when several are together.
Elevations from 7,500 to treeline.
Associates with spruce and lodgepole pine.
Prefers areas that have good drainage and some sunlight.
Occasionally near old logging roads, or hiking trails.
Thank you for reading!