Friday, November 19, 2010
Pity the False Chanterelle. It is named for what it is not. It has a rhythmic mellifluous binomial, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, which is by definition unique to the species, but in this case doesn’t truly honor the mushroom’s identity. The suffix ‘–opsis’ on the genus name means resembling or similar to. It tells us, that whatever this thing is, it is similar to fungi in the genus Hygrophorus. Imagine that the people responsible for this name are your parents; that you are a girl child with a sister called Mary; and the best they could come up with for you was Maryopsis. If they had hoped for a child of a different gender, they may even call you a False Boy. Nonetheless, the mushroom is true to itself and no doubt calls the Chanterelle a false Hygrophoropsis. There is some saving grace in the species name “aurantiaca” which means orange and is descriptive.
When and where found: False Chanterelles have been fruiting for at least the past six to eight weeks. I found some on November 13 on the Acorn Trail in Great Brook Farm State Park and more on the 14th along the Wood Duck Trail in the Greenough land. It can be found growing either on the ground or on wood.
Like a Chanterelle: The False Chanterelle and the Chanterelle both have yellow to orange caps which can develop into a funnel shape; they both have shallow blunt-edged forked gills (or ridges) which run down the stalk a little way; they both have pale-colored spores; and you can find both of them growing on the ground.
Not like a Chanterelle: The cap of the False Chanterelle is usually close to a simple circle while the Chanterelle often has a wavy or frilled edge. The False Chanterelle sometimes grows on wood; the flesh is soft and thin; the gills are usually a brighter orange and closer together than on the Chanterelle; and the gills become less blunt-edged and more blade-like in maturity. Yes, the true Chanterelle has false gills (more properly called folds or ridges) and the False Chanterelle has true gills. Go figure.
Seasonality: In this area the False Chanterelle is more abundant in the fall and the Chanterelle in the summer.
Complications: There are many species of “true” Chanterelles. Only one of them, the big yellow fragrant one (Cantharellus cibarius) is known simply as The Chanterelle. The others all have qualifiers like Tubular Chanterelle, Cinnabar Chanterelle, Smooth Chanterelle, etc.
Edibility: Not only does the False Chanterelle have to cope with its “false” name, it has long been falsely thought to be toxic. This is probably because in accounts of poisonings it was confused with another orange mushroom, the Jack O’Lantern (see Mosquito online Archive, Biodiversity Corner for October 28, 2005). The Audubon Guide now lists it as “edible with caution,” a phrase which usually means there is a poisonous look-alike – in this case the Jack O’Lantern. David Arora says it is “edible but far from incredible” and suggests it be avoided. I have not been tempted to try it.
References: Audubon Field Guide to Mushrooms, Gary H. Lincoff; Mushrooms of North America, Roger Phillips; Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora.
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