Cinnabar Red Chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus): Enjoyably Edible Wild Red Mushrooms

by DerdriuMarriner

Cinnabar red chanterelle mushrooms have a stunningly beautiful appearance. These New World natives also impart wonderful flavors to a variety of recipes.

Cinnabar red chanterelle mushrooms are New World natives which lengthily brighten North American landscapes east of the Rocky Mountains, from mid-summer to late autumn.

Unlike the toxicity signaled by some of nature's redness, cinnabar red chanterelle mushrooms deliver healthy deliciousness which flavor an array of recipes.

Uninformed mycophagists (mushroom eaters) sometimes confuse chanterelles' distinctive appearance with that of toxic Jack-o'-lanterns (Omphalotus illudens).
• But key features clarify these differences.

Chanterelle homesteading on the outskirts of my property, especially near one of the Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) sentinels, is always a pleasant and welcome surprise.

a fungal "bouquet": Cinnabar red chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cinnabarinus)

Oneida County, north central "upstate" New York
Oneida County, north central "upstate" New York

Greatly appreciated guests: red chanterelles in my front yard


One day in mid-July as I was scurrying towards my car, my peripheral vision registered lusciously red twinklings amidst the greenery of my front yard. To my surprise, greatly appreciated guests, answering to the common name of red chanterelles, were homesteading in my front yard, equidistantly among the Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) and Virginia red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) to the south, honey locust sapling (Gleditsia triacanthos) and English yew (Taxus baccata) to the southeast, English yew (Taxus baccata), silver maple (Acer saccharinum), and box elder (Acer negundo) to the northeast, and two Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) to the north.

Their appearance in my front yard likely is occasioned by massive nearby displacement of soil and vegetation as a developer uproots long-standing woody grasslands in this bucolic, rural county.

 

cinnabar crystal on Dolomite matrix: mineral is namesake of color and of fungal species

Tongren Mine, Guizhou Province, southwestern China
Tongren Mine, Guizhou Province, southwestern China

What are red chanterelles?

 

With their flamboyant coloring and petite size, red chanterelles are the red dwarfs of the mushroom universe. Considered to be one of the most beautiful New World mushrooms, red chanterelles are fragrant, flavorful delicacies which promise a feast of the senses.

Red chanterelles are also commonly known as cinnabar red chanterelles and cinnabar chanterelles. Their scientific name is Cantharellus cinnabarinus. The genus name, Cantharellus, and the common name, chanterelle, are derived from the Greek κάνθαρος (kantharos), which refers to a deep drinking cup with two handles arching above the cup's mouth. The species name, cinnabarinus, is a Latin descriptor, derived from the Greek word κινναβαρι (kinnabari), for the color of cinnabar red, also known as vermillion. The mineral cinnabar, which is a common ore of the metal mercury, displays a color range of bright scarlet to brick red.

 

pottery style from which genus name Cantharellus derives: kantharos with characteristic high-swung handles ~ East Ionia, western Anatolian coast, ca. 540 BC

Staatliche Antikensammlungen (State Collections of Antiques), Kunstareal, central Munich, southeastern Germany
Staatliche Antikensammlungen (State Collections of Antiques), Kunstareal, central Munich, southeastern Germany

 

As a mushroom, red chanterelles belong to the fungi kingdom, which is separate from the animal, bacteria, and plant kingdoms. Mushrooms are actually the fruit, which is produced aboveground by the organism. The organism's essence lives below the ground as the mycelium, a vast structure of hyphae (Greek: ὑϕή, huphe, "web"), which are long, branching filaments.

 

1894 sketch of Lewis David von Schweinitz (February 13, 1780 - February 8, 1834): namer of Cantharellus cinnabarinus in 1832 and sometimes considered as "Father of North American Mycology" ~

Mycology is the study of fungi, a kingdom which includes mushrooms, molds, and yeasts.
Popular Science Monthly, April 1894, Vol 44, p. 837
Popular Science Monthly, April 1894, Vol 44, p. 837

Distribution: New World native

 

A New World native, this spectacular little mushroom is found in southern Canada and in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, primarily in the eastern and southern states.

Red chanterelles often appear in great numbers in the area of the Chesapeake Bay, in the old-growth Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) stands of Pennsylvania, and in the mixed conifer-hardwood forests of New England.

Red chanterelles take their first fruited bow in summer, around June or July, and linger into autumn, around September or October.

 

Cantharellus cinnabarinus may be found in Pennsylvania's old-growth hemlock stands: Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) palustrine forest, with Panther Run streaming along banks of sphagnum moss

Hook Natural Area, central Pennsylvania
Hook Natural Area, central Pennsylvania

Habitat: leafy cover in the shelter of hardwoods

 

In the woods, red chanterelles usually peek out in exuberant multitudes from under leafy covered soil in proximity to hardwood forests, such as beeches (genus Fagus), birches (genus Betula) or oaks (genus Quercus), or mixed forests of hardwoods and conifers, that is, cone-bearing trees, such as hemlocks (genus Tsuga), pines (genus Pinus), and spruces (genus Picea). Their nearness to hardwoods expresses their mycorrhizal (Greek: μυκός, mykós, "fungus" + ρριζα, rriza, "roots") relationship with trees.

  • In this mutually beneficial, or symbiotic, relationship, the cells of the mycelium ensheathe the tree's rootlets, thereby easing the tree's absorption of nutrients and water.
  • In return, the tree transmits sugars, such as glucose and sucrose, as well as amino acids, to the mycelium.

 

Cinnabar red chanterelles profit from conifer-hardwood forest floor of mixed leaves and needles: lone Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) surrounded by American beech (Fagus grandifolia) trees

Gouldsboro State Park, northeastern Pennsylvania
Gouldsboro State Park, northeastern Pennsylvania

Organizational structure: alone or in a loose crowd

 

Individuals occur singly in solitary scatterings or gregariously in loose groups.

 

large group of gregarious clusters of cinnabar red chanterelles

Mushroom Observer image 97944
Mushroom Observer image 97944

Externals: What red chanterelles look like

 

Red chanterelles are considered to be small mushrooms. Their cap, botanically termed a pileus, measures about 1/2 to 2 inches (1 to 5 centimeters) across. With a length of 3/4 to 2 inches (2 to 5 centimeters) and a width of 1/8 to 3/8 inches (3 to 9 millimeters), their stalk, botanically termed a stipe, casts a slender silhouette.

The color of their cap is mirrored more or less uniformly in their stalk. Initially, both cap and stalk range vibrantly in color from cinnabar red or red orange. The redness, which fades with age, pales into pinkish orange or flamingo pink.

The characteristic red color of youthful red chanterelles derives from canthaxanthin, an organic pigment which also occurs naturally in the feathers of certain species of flamingoes (genus Phoenicopterus) and in crustaceans such as brine shrimp (genus Artemia). Unknown until the mid-twentieth century, canthaxanthin was isolated in red chanterelle specimens and identified by marine biologist Francis Theodore Haxo (March 9, 1921 - June 10, 2010) in 1950 while he was an assistant professor in the Biology Department at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University.

  • Canthaxanthin occupies the same family of carotenoid pigments as carotene, which is responsible for the orange color in carrots.
  • Approved as a food additive by both the European Union and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), canthaxanthin is not approved by the FDA for tanning pills because of its side effects of liver and retinal damage.

 

Canthaxanthin's coloring book in nature extends beyond Cantharellus cinnabarinus mushrooms: roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), a wading bird whose pink coloration is due to canthaxanthin in its diet

Myakka River State Park, central west Florida
Myakka River State Park, central west Florida

 

In biology, a morph is a visual or behavioral difference in a member of a species. Sometimes yellow morphs of red chanterelles sprout as a homogeneous group. Or a morph may emerge in solitary distinction among the usual red color scheme of red chanterelles.

The shape of a red chanterelle's cap and stalk are likened to a funnel. Somewhat circular with wavy edges, the cap transforms vertically from the outwardly rounded convexity of youthful red chanterelles to more or less even flatness and finally at maturity to a depressed center which shapes the cap into a shallow vase. The cap's surface is smooth with wavy margins, or edges, which charmingly curl under. The stalk tapers downwards as a cylinder from the cap.

The underside of the cap has false gills which, unlike the structurally separate, knife-blade-like tissue plates of true gills, are narrow, blunt-edged folds in the cap's undersurface. Widely spaced and forked, they are decurrent (Latin: decurrere, "to run down"), which means that they extend down onto the stalk from under the cap.

Cinnabar red chanterelles may be grouped or scattered on forest floor.

an edible wild fungi
an edible wild fungi

Identification: key features

 

Petite size, fairly uniform coloring of all parts, their flamboyant redness, and the distinctive outline and spacing of the false gills all distinguish red chanterelles.

Spores, by which mushrooms propagate themselves through dispersion, are individually invisible, but a pile of multitudinous spores is discernible. The color of this mass, obtained in a spore print, is a critical identification feature. Spore prints in the wild are evinced in colored dust on a leaf or on the ground below the gills or false gills. Otherwise, to make a spore print, remove the stem, place the cap onto a piece of paper or a glass, and cover with an upside-down cup or glass to protect from air currents. The massive release of spores soon occurs. The smooth, thin-walled, ellipsoid spores of red chanterelles print as pinkish cream.

 

golden chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius): best-known species in Cantharellus genus, which -- unlike its colorfully flamboyant relatives, cinnabar red chanterelle -- emits a discernible aroma.

in habitat: in a French wood
in habitat: in a French wood

 

Unlike their golden, greatly prized relatives, the golden chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), red chanterelles do not emit a noticeable or distinctive odor.

Red chanterelles are deliciously edible. An agreeable peppery taste is released, first subtly and then unmistakeably. Nevertheless, mycophagists (Greek: μύκης, mykēs, "fungus" + φαγεῖν, phagein, "to eat"), who eat fungi (especially mushrooms), and mycologists (Greek: μύκης, mykēs + -λογία, -logía, "branch of study”), who study fungi, do not recommend identifying mushrooms in the wild through taste tests. Mild gastrointestinal distress -- such as mildly upset stomach or mild diarrhea -- sometimes occurs in those unaccustomed to consuming noncultivated mushrooms.

 

Not to be mistaken for Cantharellus cinnabarinus: Jack-o'-lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens),

George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah Mountain
George Washington National Forest, Shenandoah Mountain

Beware of mistaken identity: Jack-o'-lanterns

 

Jack-o'-lanterns (Omphalotus illudens), classified as toxic mushrooms, are mistaken for chanterelles by the unitiated. Close inspection of key points removes all doubt.

  • Jack-o'-lanterns are the fireflies of the mushroom world as their bioluminescent gills glow blue green at twilight and in darkness.
  • Jack-o'-lanterns are bright orange to orange yellow with no hint of red or pink.
  • Jack-o'-lanterns have true gills.
  • A pleasant aroma, which is often noticeable, does not confuse red chanterelle hunters who know that reds tend to be odorless, but may confuse seekers of other chanterelle species.
  • Jack-o'-lanterns form dense clusters with all their stems either fused together or closely packed at the base.

 

Habitat as key difference: Jack-o-lanterns grow on wood and sometimes on tree roots; in contrast, cinnabar red chanterelles grow in soil.

Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area, northeastern Tennessee
Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area, northeastern Tennessee

Successful hunting: harvesting tips

 

The question arises whether to pluck red chanterelles out of the ground or to leave the base attached to the mycelium underground by delicately slicing off the stem just above ground level with a knife.

Either method is acceptable, although a 13-year study of long-term growth patterns of chanterelles in Pacific Northwest forests in Oregon apparently revealed a slight decline in future mushroom growth with the knife method (Greg A. Marley, Chanterelle Dreams, p. 65).

 

Satan's mushroom (Boletas satanas): wild mushroom whose redness signals toxicity, unlike Cantharellus cinnabarinus, whose redness is equated with delicious healthiness.

L. (Léon) Dufour, Atlas des champignons comestibles et vénéneux (1891), Planche 57
L. (Léon) Dufour, Atlas des champignons comestibles et vénéneux (1891), Planche 57

Conclusion: Flamboyant cinnabar red chanterelles as welcome visitors

 

Red in nature may signal toxicity, as, for example, with Satan's mushrooms (Boletas satanas).

But cinnabar red chanterelle mushrooms are as healthy and delicious as they are strikingly attractive.

So they are pretty on the outside and pretty on the inside as well.

And their flamboyant appearance, especially in autumn as their redness flashes beneath colorful, leafy coverlets, prettifies the landscape and heralds, for aficionados, culinary enjoyment.

 

Cinnabar red chanterelles may be harvested by slicing with a knife or by plucking out of ground:

A 13-year study in Oregon revealed a slight decline in future growth with knife method.
Mushroom Observer image 51658
Mushroom Observer image 51658

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

cheery sight

Chimney Rock State Park, Rumbling Bald Mountain, Chimney Rock, Rutherford County, southwestern North Carolina
Chimney Rock State Park, Rumbling Bald Mountain, Chimney Rock, Rutherford County, southwestern North Carolina

Sources Consulted

 

Bessette, Alan E., Arleen R. Bessette, and David W. Fischer. Mushrooms of Northeastern North America. Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

Boa, Eric R. Wild Edible Fungi: A Global Overview of Their Use and Importance to People. Rome, Italy: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2004.

Dufour, L. (Léon). Atlas des champignons comestibles et vénéneux: 80 planches coloriées représentant 191 champignons communs en France, avec leur description, les moyens de reconnaître les bonnes et les mauvaises espèces et de nombreuses recettes culinaires. Paris: Librairie des Sciences Naturelles.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/3270696

Kuo, Michael. “Cantharellus cinnabarinus.” MushroomExpert > Major Groups > Chanterelles and Trumpets. June 2003. MushroomExpert.Com. Web. www.mushroomexpert.com

  • Available via MushroomExpert.Com Web site at: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/cantharellus_cinnabarinus.html

Marley, Greg A. Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmare: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms. White River Junction VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2010.

McKnight, Kent H., and Vera B. McKnight. A Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1987.

Miller, Dr. Orson K., Jr., and Hope H. Miller. North American Mushrooms: A Field Guide to Edible and Inedible Fungi. Guilford CT: FalconGuide, 2006.

Phillips, Roger. Mushrooms of North America. Boston-Toronto-London: Little, Brown and Co., 1991.

Rolfe, Robert Thatcher, and Frederick W. Rolfe. The Romance of the Fungus World: An Account of Fungus Life in its Numerous Guises, Both Real and Imaginary. London: Chapman & Hall, 1925.

Weber, Nancy Smith and Alexander H. Smith. A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1985.

 

c.1878 profile of C. cinnabarinus by mycologist-botanical illustrator Mary Banning: they were common in Druid Hill Park, northwestern Baltimore, and abundant in July and August 1877 but sparse and small in 1878 and not seen in 1879

Mary Banning, "Fungi of Maryland" (unpublished manuscript, c.1878)
Mary Banning, "Fungi of Maryland" (unpublished manuscript, c.1878)
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms by Greg A. Marley

Explores mushroom history, from famous Amanita phalloides ("the Death Cap"), reputed killer of Emperor Claudius in 1st century AD, to beloved chanterelle (cantharellus cibarius) known by at least 89 different common names in almost 25 languages.
chanterelle-themed books

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 09/11/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 10/19/2015

frankbeswick, Yes, unfortunately Europe does not have these attractive, tasty mushrooms. But fortunately, neither does Europe have the attractive, fragrant, but upsetting chanterelle lookalike, the jack-o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens)!

frankbeswick on 10/19/2015

A very informative article about a species which is not native to Europe as far as I know [hence I had not heard of it.]

DerdriuMarriner on 10/19/2015

blackspanielgallery, Yes, letting a small cluster reproduce does result in a large, self-sustaining population as long as no environmental trauma occurs. But any removal during and after the build-up to sustainability must involve all of the body parts (as opposed to slicing the above-ground and leaving behind the below-ground) of what is judiciously taken for human consumption.
Cinnabar red chanterelles show up between early and late fall so I can count on 4 or 5 months of mushroom pleasure. But I only take about 15% of the total population at a time, with the taking dependent upon when replacements show up for the culinary casualties!

DerdriuMarriner on 10/19/2015

MBC, "Yum!" says everything in regard to cinnabar red chanterelle's look and taste!

blackspanielgallery on 10/18/2015

I was wondering if a small cluster forms would it not be wise to allow them to reproduce until you have a large, self-sustaining population?

MBC on 10/17/2015

Yum, very interesting. Great photos

DerdriuMarriner on 09/16/2014

VioletteRose, Red is definitely one of nature's ambiguous yet dynamic colors and oftentimes signifies toxicity. So it's nice when red signals carefree tastiness, as in cinnabar red chanterelle mushrooms.

VioletteRose on 09/13/2014

Very colourful and beautiful looking. From their appearance, I would have never guessed they are edible mushrooms.

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