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Cantharellus formosus: The Pacific Golden Chanterelle

[ Basidiomycetes > Cantharellales > Cantharellus . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

Cantharellus formosus is a gorgeous chanterelle from the Pacific Northwest, where it grows as a mycorrhizal partner with western hemlock and other conifers. Since at least 1912, eastern North American and European mycologists visiting the Pacific Northwest have noted that the principal chanterelle in the region looked different from European and eastern North American versions of "Cantharellus cibarius." In 1938, British mycologist E. J. H. Corner collected the mushroom, made a few notes, then stored it in liquid for 28 years before naming it Cantharellus formosus in his 1966 treatment of chanterelles worldwide.

However, it turns out that Cantharellus formosus doesn't always look so different, especially when it grows in very wet weather. Its distinguishing features include a stem that is gracefully long and tapered to the base, the presence of tiny dark scales on the cap surface, pinkish orange-yellow cap colors, and a pinkish hue in the false gills. But the scales and the pinkish colors are sometimes absent in wet conditions (and, gee, it almost never rains in the Pacific Northwest); the mushroom has been labeled "Cantharellus cibarius" by amateurs and mycologists alike until fairly recently--when the mushroom's DNA added itself to the list of distinguishing features (Fiebelman et al., 1994) and those of us without DNA sequencers were forced to find some way to separate it.

An exhaustive study by Scott Redhead and others (1997) in which the authors returned to Corner's collection location, researched the weather conditions in 1938, collected a gazillion chanterelles in the Pacific Northwest, and scrutinized a gazillion chanterelles collected by others, resulted in our ability to separate Cantharellus formosus fairly confidently on its physical features, ecology, and distribution range--provided we have made enough collections to be sure that we are examining "typical" specimens that have grown in "normal" conditions (meaning: "humid but not dripping wet weather").

Readers of my book Morels (2005) and those familiar with preliminary results of the Morel Data Collection Project may be thinking that diligent field studies like the one conducted by Redhead and his coauthors might help us separate the more than 14 morel species DNA has indicated for North America, many of which appear to be inseparable at the moment. I can only agree--but it should be pointed out that mycology is Scott Redhead's day job, and that there are only about 1,500 professional mycologists on earth.


Ecology: Mycorrhizal with western hemlock and other conifers; growing alone, gregariously, or in small clusters in old-growth and second-growth forests in fall and winter; British Columbia, Oregon, and northern California.

Cap: 2-14 cm; convex with an inrolled margin, becoming broadly convex, flat, or shallowly depressed with an inrolled, uplifted, or irregular-wavy margin; the center not becoming perforated; fairly smooth, finely suede-like, or slightly roughened; bright to dull orange-yellow, with a grayish to brownish pigment layer that is nearly invisible in wet conditions but becomes more prominent with drying or with age in dry weather, appearing as tiny, darker scales; often bruising and discoloring yellowish.

Undersurface: With well developed false gills; pale orange-yellow, with a pinkish cast in most collections.

Stem: 4-8 cm long; to 2 cm thick at apex; usually tapering gracefully downward; more or less smooth; colored like the cap or paler; often bruising yellow near the base; fleshy.

Flesh: Whitish to very pale yellowish.

Chemical Reactions: Possibly pale green with iron salts, but this reaction is recorded for one Oregon specimen only, "after refrigeration for several days" (Redhead et al., 1997), without specification of the precise location (cap surface, false gills, flesh, etc.) of the test--and iron salts solutions themselves can appear greenish, depending on how they are prepared. I stupidly did not test the Cantharellus formosus specimens I have seen.

Odor and Taste: Taste mild; odor weakly sweet.

Spore Print: Whitish to pale yellowish.

Microscopic Features: Spores 7-9 x 5-6 µ; smooth; more or less elliptical.

REFERENCES: Corner, 1966. (Corner, 1966; Thiers, 1985; Redhead et al., 1997; Gamiet et al., 2003; Pilz et al., 2003; Kuo, 2007; Trudell & Ammirati, 2009.)

Further Online Information:

Cantharellus formosus at BC NFTP Mushrooms


Cantharellus formosus

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Kuo, M. (2006, February). Cantharellus formosus: The Pacific Golden Chanterelle. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: