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.


Cycle Jerk said...

That is so cool.

Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said...

Isn't it? MAW had a speaker a while back whose hobby was photographing glow-in-the-dark mushrooms. AMAZING slides. (and they were really had been a long-term hobby!)

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that on a naturalist blog you are advocating removing a species from a park.

" source recommends wrapping them in moist paper towels to bring home..."

Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said...

It always bears repeating that it's illegal to remove ANYTHING from Rock Creek Park or other parks run by the NPS. However, we often find mushrooms in people's yards and other public places that are fair game. In general, you don't harm mushrooms by removing their fruiting bodies -- as long as you're careful to cut them neatly at the bottom of the stalk and leave behind the mycelium that they're growing from, they'll continue to grow and fruit. On a large mass like the one pictured above we might take a couple home to look at and leave the rest behind to drop their spores.

Roberta said...

Wow, bright orange and glow-in-the -dark mushrooms, those are very cool. Too many of us ignore fungi and they have some very interesting things going on.

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