The genus Craterellus has some very tasty and interesting mushrooms in its ranks, including the black trumpet (Craterellus fallax, Craterellus cornucopioides, or Craterellus species 01, depending on where you live), the winter chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis), and the fragrant chanterelle (Craterellus odoratus). This article is the fourth in a series about chanterelle and chanterelle-related mushrooms that grow in the eastern United States, and more particularly in North Carolina. However, many of these Craterellus mushrooms can be found far further afield than North Carolina, and so this post should serve mushroom hunters in other areas east of the Rocky Mountains.
If you’re interested in learning more about chanterelle mushrooms and their lookalikes, I welcome you to take a peek at the three posts preceding this one; the first is about the relatively large, yellow-gold chanterelles that grow in the eastern United States, the second addresses a few chanterelle lookalike species, and the third is a specific snapshot of the cinnabar red chanterelle, Cantharellus cinnabarinus. In future posts, I will delve into more detailed descriptions of other chanterelle and Craterellus species, habitats, and chanterelle hunting tips. For now, let’s take a look at some of the edible Craterellus mushrooms, a genus of with many delightful, intriguing species!
Yours in Fungal Fancy,
An Introduction to Genus Craterellus
Craterellus is a genus made up of mycorrhizal (mutualistic) mushrooms that are generally considered edible. Some Craterellus mushrooms are collected and sold commercially, particularly the black trumpet mushroom, which is a favorite in French cuisine. In southeastern North America, there are numerous species of Craterellus mushrooms that grow throughout the main mushroom season (July-October), and several of them are excellent culinary wild mushrooms.
Craterellus mushrooms are related to species in the Cantharellus genus, which contains most of the mushrooms that are commonly called “chanterelles.” Like chanterelles, Craterellus mushrooms do not have true gills; instead, they have either smooth, wrinkled, or false gills on their fertile surfaces that produce spores. In addition, the false gills of Craterellus mushrooms that possess gill-like structures are decurrent, meaning that they run down the stem of the mushroom, rather than being attached to the cap only. Craterellus species are often tube-shaped and at least somewhat hollow, with a hole in the top of the cap that descends into the stem of the specimen. This is not an absolute feature, but the Latin name Craterellus is easy to remember (for me) because I can think of the word “crater” and clearly see something like a crater in the caps of these mushrooms.
There are numerous Craterellus mushrooms that grow on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, including some intriguing black trumpets that I used to hunt in northern California and Oregon that go by the charming name Craterellus species 01. Like most things related to mycology, the species names in Craterellus are in a state of flux, and some mushrooms that were once assumed to be identical to one another are now recognized as distinct species. For example, there are (at least) three different “black trumpet mushrooms” that grow in the eastern United States (Craterellus fallax, Craterellus foetides, and Craterellus cinereus var. multiplex…more on this in a moment…), Europe (Craterellus cornucopoides), and the west coast (Craterellus species 01, which I can personally attest to being delicious and very deserving of a name).
Below are descriptions of three of the Craterellus mushrooms you might find in North Carolina and other states east of the Rocky Mountains. By and large, I find Craterellus species to be tasty wild mushrooms, and well worth hunting for in the woods, even though some of them are pretty difficult to spot. In particular, the black trumpet mushrooms are culinary winners because of their enchanting, fruity-smoky-earthy aroma and nice chewy texture.
Craterellus fallax, the (Eastern U.S.) Black Trumpet Mushroom
Craterellus fallax, common name black trumpet mushroom, is an excellent wild edible mushroom that grows in association with oak and beech trees in particular. This makes them fairly common in North Carolina, and they grow throughout the eastern U.S. and midwestern states. There are other mushrooms east of the Rocky Mountains that are also commonly called “black trumpet,” specifically Craterellus foetides and Craterellus cinereus var. multiplex, although these two mushrooms have different fertile surfaces than the classic “black trumpet” in the eastern U.S., Craterellus fallax. Craterellus foetides is black with a rather wrinkly surface on the outer portion of the cap, whereas Craterellus cinereus var. multiplex has veined and forked gills that look a whole heck of a lot like the false gills on a small chanterelle mushroom or the cinnabar red chanterelle, Cantharellus cinnabarinus. One thing to note is that Craterellus fallax also sometimes has wrinkles on the fertile surface of the cap, but these tend to be small, and typically develop as the mushroom matures and starts to dry out and become puckered in places. On the other hand, the wrinkles on Craterellus foetides are far more significant because they are not the result of natural drying.
Craterellus fallax can be identified with relative ease; they look a bit like little black flowers with a hole in the center, and the fertile tissue on the outer portion of their caps are smooth or slightly wrinkled. Craterellus fallax does not get terribly large and usually are a few inches high and a couple inches in diameter, measured from the top of the cap. The spore print is an orangey-cream color, and sometimes they take on a slight brownish-orange hue when they’re fully mature, and the black coloration can fade to gray as they age.
In the past, Craterellus fallax was thought to be the same species as Craterellus cornucopioides, the black trumpet mushroom that is a popular edible in Europe. However, genetic analysis conducted in 2010 made it clear that Craterellus fallax is different from C. cornucopioides. To the casual observer, one of the biggest differences is spore color: whereas the classic European black trumpet has white spores, Craterellus fallax’s spores are orange-cream-colored. However, if you are using older field guides for North American wild mushrooms, may well find reference to Craterellus cornucopioides being our native black trumpet.
In addition to their funnel shape, black coloration, and smooth fertile surface, Craterellus fallax has a strong fruity-earthy aroma that it shares with some other Craterellus mushroom species, and this fragrance is particularly strong when black trumpets are dehydrated. In fact, this fruity scent tends to be much stronger in black trumpets than in chanterelle mushrooms, and this bewitching smell gives me tingles of culinary excitement anytime I find these dainty but delicious mushrooms. Their texture is a little rubbery and sometimes soft or a bit felty, and their flesh is thin.
Craterellus fallax is pretty darn common in the North Carolina Piedmont between August and October, and I usually find them in mixed hardwood/coniferous forests or hardwood groves, especially in small depressions in the land where moisture is plentiful. They often grow in groups of several individuals, sometimes quite abundantly, and so once you spot one it’s a good idea to roam around a little bit and see if you can come up with a handful of them. The problem, such as it is, is that Craterellus fallax is a bit difficult to spot, especially in the shady, dark forest, because their dusky tones and small stature conceals them from probing eyes! In fact, I had been visiting one of my favorite chanterelle spots for nearly two whole seasons before I discovered a nice large patch of Craterellus fallax growing at the base of a beech tree at the trailhead leading into my mushroom patch!
Black trumpet mushrooms of the species Craterellus fallax do like a good bit of moisture, so keep an eye out for them in when it’s been rainy and not too terribly hot outside, pay special attention to mossy areas and near mud puddles. One of the finest collections of Craterellus fallax I’ve ever found was growing on the edges of a hole with a pool of water in the bottom; although they were only occupying a small space, there were about a dozen large and perfectly formed black trumpets hanging onto the side of the hole, seemingly delighting in the moisture that was wicking upwards from the puddle below. Although Craterellus fallax can be found in North Carolina during the summertime, in my experience you’re more likely to find abundant black trumpets in the fall, with a peak in September and or October.
From a culinary perspective, Craterellus fallax is an excellent mushroom. It dries exceptionally well, which makes it a prime candidate for preservation, although I do recommend keeping a close eye on them when dehydrating them, because they are low-moisture mushrooms and they can get crispy-dry very quickly, so there’s no need to overdo it!
To revive dried black trumpets, simply put them in warm water and walk away for 10-15 minutes and they’ll come right around. Also, they will no doubt stain their soaking water blackish, and that rehydration water can be used to enhance the black trumpety flavor of various dishes.
The flavor of Craterellus fallax is faintly fruity, and although their aroma is intense, not a tremendous amount of that distinctive essence is discernible in cooked black trumpets. Like all wild mushrooms, Craterellus fallax should be cooked thoroughly, but given their thin flesh this does not take very long. Usually, I simply saute them and use them atop pasta or a nice piece of fish, although you can also make a mean creamy sauce with the mushrooms and their soaking water as well!
Craterellus tubaeformis, the winter chanterelle
Craterellus tubaeformis goes by several common names, including winter chanterelle, yellow foot, and the funnel chanterelle. It is edible and quite good, in my opinion, but most authors (myself included at this point) recommend only eating them in small, cautionary quantities so that you can gauge your own personal reaction to them.
Anecdotally, I haven’t met anyone who’s reported having issues with Craterellus tubaeformis. Although there is some debate in the mushroom geek community about whether or not Craterellus tubaeformis is found in NC, a genetic study recently concluded that specimens collected in North Carolina were members of this species.
Craterellus tubaeformis is brown capped, with brownish false gills that tend to be lighter overall than the mushroom’s cap, particularly as the mushroom ages. It also has a brown or yellow-brown stem, which often has stronger hints of toward the base of the stem. The spore print is white.
Craterellus tubaeformis is normally hollow-stemmed, and most specimens of the winter chanterelle have a hole or deep, funnel-shaped depression in the center of the cap. This depression or hole tends to be more pronounced in older specimens of Craterellus tubaeformis. The margin of the cap becomes wavy as the mushroom matures, and as it ages, Craterellus tubaeformis fruiting bodies take on a somewhat vase-like or flowery appearance, with the edge of the cap becoming wavy and irregular.
The ecology of the winter chanterelle is mycorrhizal, and it and forms mutualistic relationships with trees and plants. Craterellus tubaeformis tends pair up with coniferous trees in particular, and it’s commonly found in pine forests with ample moisture. Sometimes, Craterellus tubaeformis grows out of highly decomposed wood, which is a bit mysterious to me given its mycorrhizal ecology.
A note for beginners: its important to be cautious of smallish brown mushrooms that grow on wood, because there are some very poisonous mushrooms that have this lifestyle, particularly the deadly galerina, Galerina autunmnalis. Although the deadly galerina is very distinct from Craterellus tubaeformis and other Craterellus mushrooms that can be found growing in highly decomposed wood, until you are very comfortable with your mushroom identification, it’s probably best not to eat small brown mushrooms you find sprouting out of woody substrates.
Craterellus tubaeformis typically grows in groups of several individuals, and occasionally appears in large numbers. On the west coast, it can cover entire hillsides, particularly near the coast. It often grows in loose clusters of different mushrooms, but these individual specimens do not share a common base.
In some ways, Craterellus tubaeformis looks like the common ringless honey mushroom that grows like gangbusters in North Carolina, Armillaria tabescens. However, this species of honey mushroom typically grows in dense clusters of different individuals that share a common base and can be pulled up in one big clump.
Although Armillaria tabescens also has a white spore print, it can easily be distinguished from Craterellus tubaeformis (and other Craterellus mushrooms with false, decurrent gills) on account of its growth pattern and physical features. In addition to its propensity for growing in dense clusters, the ringless honey mushroom sports a cap that is often covered with small, blackish or bear-brown hairs, and it also has a sort of grainy coloration that looks like a low resolution photograph, whereas Craterellus tubaeformis is consistently brown or yellowish-brown. Furthermore, the ringless honey mushroom tends to grow larger than Craterellus tubaeformis, and it has an incredibly tough stem that is difficult to tear apart. Finally, Armillaria tabescens has true gills that are whitish in color, although as they mature these deep, blade-like gills turn brown. These gills are not veined or cross-forked as with Craterellus tubaeformis, although they are often decurrent and run down the stem.
Craterellus ignicolor, the flame chanterelle
Craterellus ignicolor, the flame chanterelle, is a beautiful little mushroom that looks very similar to Craterellus tubaeformis in some ways, although the former has a lot more flash to it. While the winter chanterelle is typically a dull brown color with some yellow tones (especially toward the base of the stem), Craterellus ignicolor is a bright, vibrant orange-yellow color, at least when the mushroom is young. It has a pinkish-orange spore print. It grows in North Carolina, and does very well in the mountainous parts of the state. The flame chanterelle’s season is summer to fall, similar to the other Craterellus mushrooms that grow in the state.
Craterellus ignicolor’s common name is quite accurate – at the peak of its lifecycle it is flame-colored and very vibrant. As it ages, however, the flame chanterelle often dulls out significantly, turning a buff-brownish color or darkened yellow over the course of its fruiting cycle.
Craterellus ignicolor shares some key features with Craterellus tubaeformis, especially the hollow stem and vase-shaped and wavy-edged cap at maturity. As Craterellus ignicolor specimens grow, they usually form a very noticeable dimple, hole, or depression in the middle of the cap. The mushroom has false gills that are veined and forked, and usually pretty shallow. The false gills of Craterellus ignicolor are yellowish orange when the mushroom is young, and often become baby-butt pinkish as the mushroom matures.
Craterellus ignicolor is mycorrhizal and grows in association with hardwood trees, particularly oak and beech trees (notoriously popular tree associates for the mutualistic fungi of North Carolina). They often grow in large patches made up of many individuals, and they are typically not very large, often topping out at two or three inches in diameter. They are generally considered edible, although most authors recommend eating them sparingly at first to be certain that they are agreeable with any would-be mycophagist.
Concluding Thoughts on Craterellus Mushrooms
Naturally, I have not listed each and every species of Craterellus mushroom that grows in North Carolina; there are certainly others, and most of them share the basic features I outlined at the beginning of this article. As with all things in mycology, there will no doubt be changes to our understanding of these little mushrooms, and it is quite likely a lot of the scientific names will change as time goes on.
If you’re interested in eating Craterellus mushrooms, my strong recommendation is to start with Craterellus fallax. It is distinctive in appearance and fragrance, common, and very good, from a culinary perspective. This makes Craterellus fallax a pretty good “novice mushroom” for those who are just getting into mushroom hunting and want to find other delicious species in chanterelle habitats!