Scientists Identify New Edible Mushroom in Chicago

The Field Museum
The Field Museum / The Field Museum

A sunny yellow edible mushroom has just joined the noble ranks of new species named for the Windy City. Writing in the journal Mycologia, fungus researchers say the Chicago chanterelle had been under our noses all along.

There’s a reason we missed it: fungus is kind of tricky. “Plants are there almost all the time,” lead researcher and Field Museum mycologist Patrick Leacock told mental_floss. Fungi are far more ephemeral. Some species pop up only once every five years, others once a year. They appear overnight and are gone just a few days later. “You have to be in the right place at the right time” to see them, Leacock said. To date, he and his colleagues have cataloged more than 1000 different fungi species across the Chicago area.

Leacock and his co-authors had seen yellow chanterelles there, too, but they had no reason to believe the mushrooms were special. There are chanterelles all over the place. Then researchers in other parts of the country began taking a closer look at the chanterelles in their backyards. They sequenced the fungi’s genomes and discovered that what had appeared to be one standard North American variety was actually a number of distinct species. One 2014 paper suggested that there might be as many as 100 unidentified types of chanterelles still out there.

The Chicago team decided to test their own wild specimens. During the summers from 2000 to 2014, they collected yellow chanterelles in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, noting the location in which each mushroom was found. They extracted DNA from 21 of their fresh specimens, 20 dried mushrooms, and one preserved piece, and sequenced each sample.

The Field Museum

Sure enough, the golden mushrooms nestled at the base of Illinois oak trees were a species all their own. Cantharellus chicagoensis looks a lot like its nearby cousins, but its flavor is more delicate and its aroma milder.

Want to find your own? You’ll likely have to wait until next summer, as C. chicagoensis is a summer variety. Head out of the city center and into the nearby forest preserves. Look for oak trees and check at the base.

Because this is Chicago we’re talking about, we had to ask: How would this new species fare on a slice of deep-dish pizza?

So-so, Leacock said: “It’s not the best use of it.” He recommends a nice omelet instead.

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