There are more than 250 types of poisonous mushrooms in the United States alone (not all…
Mushrooms that glow in the dark like ghost mushrooms? This might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but glowing mushrooms exist in real life! There are actually around 100 different species of fungi that have this incredibly cool ability.
Most are from the Omphalotus genus which includes Ghost mushrooms and Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms. Learn more about these amazing fungi — their appearance, habitat, and toxicity — in this article.
Omphalotus Genus of Mushrooms that Glow in the Dark
It might feel like Halloween, stumbling upon these mushrooms’ eerie green glow in the forest. In the Fungi Kingdom of roughly 100,000 described species, there are 108 recognized bioluminescent fungi (light-emitting) species as of 2020.
Specifically, these species belong to four distant but related lineages found worldwide — Omphalotus, Armillaria, Mycenoid, and Lucentipes. Most of which are abundant in the tropics.
Why do some mushrooms glow in the dark?
Basically, fungal bioluminescence is caused by chemical reactions between luciferin, oxygen, and fungal luciferase. Luminous fungi emit green light from their fruiting bodies, mycelia, or both.
Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. It results from a chemical reaction during which chemical energy is converted to light energy.
Specifically, this occurs when an enzyme, luciferase, catalyzes an organic substance called luciferin. Some scientists believe that the mushroom’s light emission attracts insects which may aid in spore dispersal.
According to mycologist Dennis Desjardin, there is evidence that in some species, insects are more attracted to glowing mushrooms.
However, other studies show that bioluminescence in fungus does not attract potential spore dispersing insects.
3 Most Popular Bioluminescent Mushrooms
Now, let us get to know some of these famous glowing fungi. Popular glowing species include Jack-o’-lantern mushroom, Ghost mushroom, and Moon Night mushroom.
Jack-o’-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius or Omphalotus illudens)
Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are abundant in North America and parts of central & southern mainland Europe. They usually grow from July to October, in dense clusters. You can spot them at the base of deciduous trees, decaying stumps, or less commonly, on buried woods.
Fruiting bodies are striking, bright orange in color, and have deep crowded gills running down the stem. The caps are convex, sunken in the center, with tiny bump. Also, flesh is pale orange. Only the the gills gives off a very faint blue-green glow and is only observable in low-light conditions.
Jack-o’-lanterns are not poisonous to touch but are harmful when eaten. Ingestion may cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and weakness. Poisoning cases is often due to misidentifying Jack-o’-lanterns as the edible Chanterelles. Read about Jack o’lantern mushroom poisoning
Ghost mushroom (Omphalotus nidiformis)
Next, we have Ghost mushroom from Southern Australia, Southeast Asia, and India. This fungi grows in large overlapping clusters on both dead wood (saprophytic) and living trees (where it is parasitic).
The caps are funnel-shaped and cream-colored with shades of orange or brown in the center. Also, the flesh is thin creamy white in color. The cream-colored gills run down the length of the stem.
Photos from the internet may have you thinking that ghost fungi glow green. But in person, you will see it with your naked eye as having a very faint bluish white glow.
Though not lethal, ingestion of Ghost mushroom results to vomiting and severe cramps. Such symptoms occur 30 minutes to two hours after ingestion and lasts for several hours. Read about The Poisonous Ghost Fungus
Besides, hunters often mistake ghost fungi with the edible Oyster mushrooms. Read about 7 Types of Oyster Mushrooms & 3 Poisonous Look Alikes
Moon Night mushroom (Omphalotus japonicus)
Moon Night mushroom, also known as tsukiyotake (月夜茸), is native to Japan and Eastern Asia. Further sightings include Korea, China, and Russia. This fungi appears from September to October in mountainous areas, growing on dead or decaying beech trees.
The caps are kidney or half-moon-shaped with orange to light brown color that darkens with age. Further, flesh is white and gills are thick white extending downward which can turn yellowish with age. They grow seemingly even-spaced surrounding dying tree trunks and even tree branches.
In the dark, fungi gills emit a pale white glow. But with long exposure camera settings, it is captured as a vivid greenish glow.
Just like the other glowing mushrooms, it is poisonous. Within 30 minutes to 3 hours of consumption, symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain typically appear. However, in severe cases, intestinal edema (build-up of excess fluid) will manifest several days after. Read about Tsukiyotake (Lampteromyces japonicus) Poisoning
O. japonicus is often mistaken as the edible Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms.
In addition, other popular bioluminescent species include Panellus stipticus & Panellus pusillus (in the family Mycenacea), and Armillaria mellea.
Wrapping Up | Glow-In-The-Dark Mushrooms
As we explore the dark corners of the world, the discovery of glowing Omphalotus mushrooms is not uncommon. These ghostly mushrooms, Jack-o’-lantern, Moon Night, and Ghost mushrooms, are so named for their ability to glow in the dark.
Besides, their bioluminescent properties are a source of fascination for fungi enthusiasts or photographers. But though their glow seem to attract insects and even us humans, keep in mind that they are NOT for consumption.
Finally, learning about these fascinating fungi could help you better understand how other organisms live and grow.
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