Thursday, October 21, 2010

LOOK FOR: Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms

The jack o'lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) is a poisonous orange mushroom that glows in the dark. We've found it twice in the last two weeks -- perfect for the lead up to Halloween!

Jack-o-lantern Mushroom (do NOT eat!)
Photo credit: plussed
When they're fresh, jack o'lantern mushrooms are a bright orange, enough to catch your eye from far away in the woods, like chicken of the woods. Unlike chicken of the woods, which grows in shelf-like clusters, these mushrooms have a cap on a stalk. Jack o'lanterns also have gills on the undersides, rather than pores. They grow in clusters, and each individual cap and stalk can be up to 8 inches tall and 8 inches across -- a pretty impressive sight.

But the truly cool thing about these mushrooms is that the gills glow in the dark. You need absolute darkness to see it, and they need to be in their prime (one source recommends wrapping them in moist paper towels to bring home).
Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom Glowing (Omphalotus olearius)
Photo credit: amuderick

Just don't go trick-or-treating on these beauties. They may look and smell great, but they'll make you really, really sick.

Jack-o-Lantern Mushroom
Photo credit: pellaea

In the wild: We've found these mushrooms twice in Rock Creek Park (once on Oregon Avenue and once by Boundary Bridge), and also in Scott's Run.