An Old Friend Gets a New Name

© Brian A. Perry
Original publication: Mycena News, December 2008

For years, one of the most commonly collected and highly sought after edible mushroom species in California has gone without a proper scientific name. Although many of you may not have realized this, the oak woodland chanterelle we so commonly collect here in the Bay Area and other regions of California, has had a name based upon a European species loosely applied to it. Undoubtedly, some of you have heard professionals or other knowledgeable fungophiles proclaim that our oak chanterelle is not the same species as that found in the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest, and that someone ought to put a good name on that species. Well, finally, in a forthcoming issue of the scientific journal “Economic Botany,” David Arora and co-author Susie Dunham rectify this situation, providing the chanterelle so common to our California oak woodlands and mixed evergreen forests with a valid scientific name, Cantharellus californicus sp. nov.

Cantharellus californicus

As indicated by Arora and Dunham (2008), the species name Cantharellus cibarius Fr., based on material collected in France, has been applied at one time or another to all of the golden chanterelles we encounter in California (excluding of course, the white chanterelle C. subalbidus A.H. Sm. & Morse, and the funnel chanterelle C. tubaeformis Fr.). A recent study by Redhead and colleagues (1997) determined, however, that the common chanterelle species associated with Tsuga (hemlock) and Pseudostuga (douglas fir) in the Pacific Northwest is Cantharellus formosus Corner, originally described from material collected on Vancouver Island, B.C. In this same study, the authors reported the presence of another taxon, Cantharellus cibarius var. roseocanus Redhead, Norvell & Danell, associated with Picea (spruce) in the Pacific Northwest. In a study by Dunham et al. (2003), another golden chanterelle species, Cantharellus cascadensis Dunham, O’Dell & Molina, was described from Pseudotsuga forests of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon on the basis of both molecular and morphological data. In both of these previous studies, the presence of an oak-associated taxon from California was indicated, but not formally described.

In the study of Arora and Dunham (2008), the authors use RFLP analyses of the nuclear internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the genome to examine the number of chanterelle taxa associated with California’s oak woodlands and mixed forests. For those not familiar with RFLP, or restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses, it is a method in which a given region of the genome is amplified using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and then cut into fragments using restriction enzymes. The lengths of these fragments, which are due the number of nucleotides they are composed of, are then sized using gel electrophoresis. Using this technique, one can resolve patterns or “profiles” of fragment lengths that ideally are species specific. The results of Arora and Dunham (2008) resolved four unique RFLP profiles corresponding to C. formosus, C. cibarius var. roseocanus, C. subalbidus, and an additional species from the live oak woodlands of California, which they formally describe as Cantharellus californicus Arora & Dunham. For those of you who routinely collect chanterelles in the live oak woodlands, mixed evergreen and coniferous forests of California, you are likely already aware of many of the morphological and ecological differences between C. californicus and the other golden chanterelle species, C. formosus and C. cibarius v. roseocanus. As indicated by Arora and Dunham (2008), C. californicus typically produces much larger fruiting bodies than either of the other species, with single basidiomes commonly weighing in at more than half, and often exceeding, a kilogram. Among the Quercus agrifolia (live oak) stands in the East Bay, I have encountered some waterlogged monsters that easily tip the scales at well over a kilogram. This does not always appear to be the case, however, as Arora and Dunham report that C. californicus tends to be smaller in size when found in mixed evergreen forests. In addition to size, the hymenium of mature C. californicus specimens also tend to become more “poroid” due to the development of numerous cross-veins between the lamellar folds. Micromorphologically, however, there is very little to distinguish these three taxa. Arora and Dunham also report that C. californicus is most similar in coloration to C. formosus, with a yellow-orange pileus and typically paler hymenium, differing from C. cibarius var. roseocanus by the latter species’ more intensely pigmented, yellowish hymenium

Cantharellus californicus

However, as indicated by Arora and Dunham (2008), a fair degree of color variation is exhibited by all three taxa, and the best means of determining species identification may be ectomycorrhizal host species and/or geographic location within California. In their analyses, Arora and Dunham found that the mixed evergreen forests from Sonoma County northward where Lithocarpus densiflora (tanoak) was common, but in which Quercus agrifolia was absent, contained only C. formosus, C. cibarius var. roseocanus, and the white chanterelle C. subalbidus. In the mixed evergreen forests of central coastal California where Q. agrifolia is present, however, nearly all collections examined where C. californicus. Although not as abundant as on the coast, C. californicus is also reported to occur with Q. agrifolia, and to a lesser degree Quercus parvula var. shrevei, Quercus wislezenii and Quercus kelloggii in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Additionally, this species has also been reported from at least one site in association with Lithocarpus densiflora, and reported, but not confirmed by the authors, with Arbutus menziesii (madrone) and Arctostaphylos spp. (manzanita). In the coniferous forests of the North Coast, only C. formosus, and C. cibarius var. roseocanus were encountered.

Based on the results of Arora and Dunham (2008), it is clear that Q. agrifolia is the primary ectomycorrhizal host of C. californicus, with L. densiflora, A. menziesii and Manzanita spp. potentially serving as secondary hosts in some localities. When collecting in the oak woodlands, or mixed evergreen forests containing Quercus agrifolia, C. californicus appears to be the only golden chanterelle species one is likely to encounter. It is wonderful to see that such beautiful fungal component of our live oak woodlands and mixed evergreen forests finally has a fitting name.

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