If you live here in Southwest Virginia, you’ll know its been raining steadily for most of the summer. The ground is sopping wet and the streams and rivers are out of their banks. Everyone is getting a little tired of it by now. But take a walk in the forest and you’ll find some creatures that are really feeling just fine about all the wet. Those creatures would be the mushrooms.
A 4th of July walk in the Pandapas Pond area revealed a spectacle of fungi that were putting on their own fireworks. There were bright orange and yellow club fungi that looked like flames of fire in the leaf litter. There were big and imposing boletes. There were purple and peach-colored coral fungi, black trumpets, and strange brown disk fungi for which I have no name. But most exciting were the chanterelles!
When I lived in Oregon, chanterelles appeared for sale in the fall at farmers markets. Collecting them was a common pastime, and the effort could be quite rewarding. So I was surprised to find chanterelles today in the middle of summer, although when I got home and looked it up, I discovered that this genus can be found growing throughout the summer on the east coast. Who knew?!
These uniformly colored mushrooms are shaped like a funnel and have wavy margins around the cap. If you flip the mushroom over, you’ll see that the “gills” are not true gills. They are more like slightly melted ridges. The gill-like ridges run part-way down the stipe (or stem), such that the stipe and cap appear to be one unit. If you follow the “false gills” across the cap, look closely to see if they fork toward the edge of the cap. They should. Finally, cut the mushroom in half- it should reveal whitish flesh inside.
Here are some photos I took today before loading up a little bag full of these “choice edibles”. If you plan to eat wild mushrooms yourself, always consult an expert first. There are several species of chanterelles in Appalachia, and they vary in color. A common one is the golden chanterelle. There is also a look-alike “false chanterelle” (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) that is less tasty and could be confused with this one, as well as a true-gilled mushroom called the Jack-o-Lantern that mimics the color of chanterelles but is very poisonous. Always do your research and train with an expert if you intend to harvest and eat wild mushrooms!