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Cantharellus formosus

[ Basidiomycota > Cantharellales > Cantharellaceae > 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").

Thanks to the New York Botanical Garden for facilitating study of the collection cited below. Thanks to Naomi Clarke for documenting, collecting, and preserving Cantharellus formosus for study; her collection is deposited in The Herbarium of Michael Kuo.


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. The illustrated and described collections are from California and Oregon.

Cap: 3–10 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; bald, 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: Running down the stem; with well developed false gills; pale orange-yellow, when fresh with a pinkish cast in most collections.

Stem: 4–6 cm long; to 1.5 cm thick at apex; usually tapering gracefully downward; more or less bald; colored like the cap or paler; often bruising yellow to brownish near the base; fleshy.

Flesh: Whitish to very pale yellowish.

Odor and Taste: Taste mild; odor weakly sweet.

Spore Print: Whitish to pale yellowish.

Microscopic Features: Spores 6.5–10 x 5–7 µm; ellipsoid; smooth; inamyloid; faintly ochraceous in KOH; with minutely granular contents. Basidia 45–75 µm long; 4-sterigmate. Elements from cap surface 3–7.5 µm wide; cylindric; with thick (1 µ) or thin walls that are ochraceous and somewhat refractive in KOH; terminal cells cylindric with rounded apices, or occasionally subclavate. Clamp connections present.

REFERENCES: Corner, 1966. (Thiers, 1985; Redhead et al., 1997; Pilz et al., 2003; Kuo, 2007; Trudell & Ammirati, 2009.) Herb. Kuo 10051902. Herb. NY 01945780 (ASM 1812).

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Cantharellus formosus

Cantharellus formosus

Cantharellus formosus

Cantharellus formosus
Cap surface: terminal cell

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Kuo, M. (2019, November). Cantharellus formosus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: