This time of year there are tons and tons of Chanterelles out there in the forests of Western Washington. And among them, false Chanterelles, hiding like wolves in sheep's clothing! How can you spot them?
There are several different false Chanterelles to watch for. One that we found (in abundance, sometimes mixed right in with real Chanterelles) during our foray last Friday was Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, aptly named "False Chanterelle." Note the color in the attached three photos (side view above, cap view at left, and gill view below), which is very similar to that of Golden Chanterelles. The cap shape also can mimic that of young Golden Chanterelles.
The real difference is in the gills. The gills of true Chanterelles are "forked" in places, and less deep or less pronounced than the gills of the False Chanterelle, which are typically not forked. Also, the False Chanterelle gills connect more abruptly with the stipe (or stem), whereas true Chanterelle gills are more likely to merge gracefully and gradually down onto the stipe.
Also, there is a marked difference in the stipe of the two. The stipe of a False Chanterelle is less solid, and not solid white inside (like the stipe of a true Chanterelle) when you cut it through. And it may be a slightly different color than the cap of the False Chanterelle, which is not true with a true Chanterelle.
Another class of mushrooms some mistake for Chanterelles is the Jack O'Lantern (Omphalotus olearius,Omphalotus illudens, Omphalotus olivascens). Once again, the color is very similar, and this time the gills are quite similar too, except that (unlike true Chantelles) the Omphalotus gills do not fork. But note the distinct coloration (which goes darker in places) on the cap. The color of true Chanterelles is quite uniform. Also, Jack O'Lanterns (and I haven't seen any of these yet in my forays here in the Pacific Northwest, even though they are said to grow here) spring up in profuse clusters. You may find Golden Chanterelles in clusters of 2, 3, 4, even 6, but nothing like what you see in the adjacent photo.
But perhaps the easiest way to tell the difference is by cutting into the stipe. The stipe of true Chanterelles is white. The stipe of Jack O'Lanterns is orange.
I've also mistaken Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum) for young Golden Chanterelles, mostly due to the color. However, the marked difference with Hedgehogs is underneath the cap. Hedgehogs have a series of fine spines which release their spores, rather than gills.
What happens if you get it wrong?
If you get a Hedgehog mixed in (as I did once) by accident, no problem! They are delicious and highly prized edibles.
Most experts think the False Chanterelle itself (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) isn't actually toxic, though it has reportedly caused stomach problems in some. But this mushroom reportedly has very bitter taste. But personally I don't think one would cause serious problems if it got mixed into your batch of Chanties by accident.
Jack O'Lanterns, on the other hand, are definitely toxic, and great care should be taken not to accidentally include them in any harvesting of Chanterelles!
Get to know the real thing!
Once again, the important part of identifying any counterfeit edible mushroom is getting to know the real thing! That (and caution) is the easiest way to prevent misidentification and accidentally ingesting a false Chanterelle. So be sure to go through your basket when you are done collecting. Look at the color of the cut stipe, and the gills. If anything is off, toss it ... better safe than sorry!