Jack O’Lanterns and Chanterelles

I was out wanderin’ around the other day in the Santa Barbara backcountry and happened to be near a place where I know chanterelles grow. I had not planned on picking any mushrooms, but since I was so close I decided to take a looksee at how they were growing this season.

Not more than fifteen feet apart there were both Jack O’Lanterns and chanterelles growing from the base of small trees. And the chanterelles were not growing on the base of a Coast Live Oak either or any kind of oak for that matter, although oaks were nearby.

Jack O'Lanterns sprouting up around the bases of small trees.

Chanterelles growing at the base of a small tree within fifteen feet of the Jacks shown in the previous photo.

Then the incident occurred.

I had just finished packing some mushrooms in my backpack and cranked the zipper shut ziiiiiiiiiiiiip! when I heard footsteps crunching in the leaf mulch a split second before a voiced bellowed, “It’s all poison oak over here.” By the sound of it, the person must have been only a few yards away behind the dense undergrowth.

Crouched in a kneeling position in a black hat, olive drab t-shirt and khaki colored pants, I was well concealed, but totally blew my cover screwing around with the zipper, which I was not at all happy about. And I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard anybody coming sooner.

The steps marched off in the opposite direction. I knew there were at least two people, though I hadn’t seen anybody, just heard them close by. Real close. For the next ten minutes I sat listening as the crunchy-sounding footsteps came and went. They would get louder then fade away and then suddenly sound again. Twice I caught a glimpse of a guy with a bag stomping around in the woods foraging and I heard voices several times.

At one point, as I was crouching surrounded by a patch of chanterelles, I clearly saw a guy walking toward me in the forest about 30 yards away or so and thought the game was up. I couldn’t move to hide behind anything without making noise in the crispy leaf mulch. The guy was moving toward me, moved behind a small thicket and then I lost him and it went quiet for a little while. A minute or two later the steps sounded again and eventually faded away for good.

I’ve been picking at this spot for many years and have never seen sign of anybody else around. I’m not sure, but I have a hard time believing they didn’t see me or at the very least hear me zipping my bag closed. Hopefully they found and saw nothing and won’t return next season to plunder the spot.

The underside of a Jack O'Lantern showing the paper-thin gill structure, which differentiates them from chanterelles.

Chanterelles lack gills and have, what I would describe as, ridges.

Related Post:

Chanterelle Mushrooms: Hunting Santa Barbara County

Baby’s First Chanterelle

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6 Responses to Jack O’Lanterns and Chanterelles

  1. Jerry says:

    Thanks for your post. I brought home a backpack full of chanterelles yesterday and your pictures helped me convince my wife that they were not poisonous. We found a huge crop near Leavenworth, WA.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Hey Jerry. Thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear the post was of some value to you. Way to go on the harvest! I’ve been picking for years, but still have people in my family that are leery of eating them. There seems to be a strong case of mycophobia in America when it comes to eating wild mushrooms.

  2. Sean Cowan says:

    Eating wild mushrooms isn’t dangerous provided you do solid research and know what to look for. Chanterelle is a good choice to look for as the only similar one is the Jack O Lantern and as can be seen they do look different if closely inspected. Other types of mushrooms like Oyster have so many look-a-likes it can be almost impossible to tell what is what.

  3. R Ayers says:

    I know this is a late post, but speaking of look-alikes leads me to ask.
    I’ve just finished reading “The Forager’s Harvest” (Samuel Thayer) a guide to identifying, harvesting and preparing Edible Wild Plants. Unfortunately, most of it is for eastern and midwestern climes.
    Is there anything similar for the West Coast (including our local foothills)?

    I used to do “live off the land treks” during my younger years in the Arizona mountains and canyons; now my sons want to do the same, and I would like something more definitive to rely on for this region.
    Much Thanks!

    (I know there are various field / survival guides, but I’m disappointed in what I have seen so far… so much contradictory – and often uninformed – data… wrong classifications or photos, etc.. Also, talk of look-alikes, but not clear delineation or comparisons to make me comfortable enough to let my son loose in the wilds)

  4. audrey724 says:

    These are the best pictures I have found so far. I feel much better about the chanterelles I harvested yesterday. Thanks.

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