An Important Comparison

I’ve mentioned before that mushrooming can be tricky business. Knowing what you’re picking and the key differences between look-alikes can spare you a lot of grief and sometimes even save your life. A little while ago I went mushrooming and found both Chanterelles and Jack O’ Lanterns, a frequently mistaken look-alike.

Note the color difference between Chanterelles(left) and Jack O' Lanterns(Right)

One differentiator between Chanterelle and Jack O’ Lantern is the color. Jacks have an olive-y tinge to the cap and more so on the gills. It isn’t always as obvious as it is here, especially when you’re only holding one of the other, not both. However, when cut, Chanterelle flesh is always white, while Jack O’ Lantern flesh is never white and usually a brown or grey tone though very fresh specimens sometimes lean towards golden brown flesh.

The gills on Chanterelles(left) and Jack O' Lanterns(right) are very different

Though at first glance the gills on both kinds of mushrooms don’t appear to be a great distinguishing characteristic, second inspection shows that Chanterelles (left) have dull, shallow gills which sometimes crisscross or end short. On the other hand, Jack O’ Lanterns have blade-like gills which run deep and while they do branch, they don’t cross.

Another difference between these two mushrooms is that Chanterelles grow in duff while Jacks grow on dead wood. This is not to be relied upon as a key difference however, since dead wood can often be buried and may not be visible despite still being the host for the Jack O’ Lantern’s mycelium.

I am not a mushroom expert and I don’t pretend to be, but these two indicators of a look-alike can go a long way to save you several days of serious misery when it comes to hunting for and consuming wild Chanterelles. Both sets of mushrooms pictured here were collected on the same day on Mount Tamalpais. They grow in very similar areas, and both smell sweet and mushroomy, but they are distinguishable with practice and careful attention.

*Please note that I am not an expert at mushroom foraging. Please refer to the links in the text along with the book Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora  for more comprehensive information on mushroom identification and collection. Thank you.

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