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Jack-o'-lantern mushroom

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Jack-o'-lantern mushroom
Jack o' lantern mushroom.jpg
Scientific Classification
Binomial Name

Omphalotus olearius

Omphalotus olearius.jpg
The jack-o'-lantern mushroom in its natural habitat

The Jack-o'-lantern mushroom is a species of fungus known by the scientific name Omphalotus olearius . bright orange or yellowish orange in color. It looks very similar to some chanterelle mushrooms, but is poisonous (usually not fatal). They perform sexual and asexual reproduction and produce spores. These mushrooms live on dead or decaying trees, usually hardwoods like oaks, and help decompose them. They have a special trait to them called bioluminescence, which allows them to glow in the dark, giving them their name "jack-o'-lantern" mushrooms.


The apparent physical features of the jack-o'-lantern mushroom

The jack-o'-lantern mushroom is a bright orange or yellowish orange color. The cap, stalk, and gills are all the same or very similar in color. It has a smooth texture on the cap and stalk. The cap can be flat or rounded at the edge, and one of its most notable features is the large dip in the center. The gills on the bottom of the cap can be narrow or broad and are sharp-edged, crowded, and non-branching. The gills also have a green glow in the dark feature to them, called bioluminescence. The stalk is usually curved and tapers off toward the base. The spores are cream colored and round.[1] [2]

The cap width varies from two to eight inches and the stalk length also varies from two to eight inches. The stalk width varies from half of an inch to three fourths of an inch.[1]

These mushrooms are often mistaken for other edible mushrooms, most notably the chanterelle mushrooms, because they look extremely similar and smell and taste very good, but they are actually poisonous. They aren't fatal to healthy adults, but cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, headaches, and exhaustion.[1] [2]


All mushrooms use both sexual and asexual reproduction. The above ground mushrooms that you see are actually reproductive structures made from the under ground portion of the mushroom, called mycelium. The mycelium serves as a "body" for the mushrooms, and only sends them up to grow when the conditions are just right.

In sexual reproduction, mushrooms produce spores rather than sperm, eggs, or seeds. Millions of spores are located on the underside of the cap. Meiosis occurs on the underside of the cap, splitting the genetic code and creating reproductive haploid cells. Originally, the fungi will have two nuclei, but after meiosis the produced cells only have one. This means that two of these cells have to combine before a new mushroom can be formed.

Asexual reproduction in mushrooms occurs when the formed haploid cells in sexual reproduction cannot find a suitable partner to continue the life cycle with. The cell will continuously clone itself until it can find another haploid cell to join with. This can take place through the ground, by wind, and by water.[3]


The jack-o'-lantern mushroom is saprobic, which means it survives by decomposing dead or decaying organic material (usually wood). They are helpful to the environment because they break down and recycle the nutrients for other plants to grow. They grow in large clusters in late summer or fall on stumps or roots of hardwoods like oaks. They are commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains, but can be found pretty much everywhere in the United States or anywhere that has forests.[4]


A group of jack-o'-lantern mushrooms glowing in the dark

The jack-o'-lantern mushroom's most notable characteristic is its ability to glow in the dark. This uncommon trait is called bioluminescence, and is thought to be caused by the same enzymes used by fireflies. These enzymes are a mix of luciferin and luciferase that make the gills of the mushroom glow an eerie green color in total darkness. As long as the mushroom has water and oxygen, it can glow forever. Scientists aren't quite sure why these mushrooms (and a few others) glow in the dark, because there is no notable advantage to the organism itself. [5]

This bioluminescent trait can be tested at home as long as there are jack-o'-lantern mushrooms nearby. The mushrooms have to be fresh and wrapped in a damp paper towel because the chemical reaction requires water. If they are taken into a completely dark room, the faint green glow of these amazing mushrooms might be visible.


Jack-o'-lantern mushrooms found on some decomposing wood.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Unknown. Jack-o'-lantern mdconline. Web. May 27, 2013 (Date of Access).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Unknown. Jack O'Lantern Study of Northern Virginia Ecology. Web. May 27, 2013 (Date of Access).
  3. Coila, Bridget. The Reproductive Life Cycle of a Mushroom Suite101. Web. May 3, 2009 (Date-of-Publication).
  4. Kuo, Michael. Omphalotus illudens: The Jack O'Lantern Web. November 2007 (Date-of-Publication).
  5. Unknown. Mushroom Lights Up the Night in Brazil: Researcher Finds Bioluminescent Fungus Not Seen Since 1840 ScienceDaily. Web. July 7, 2011 (Date-of-Publication).