Haunted Horticulture V – Jack-o-Lantern Mushroom

By Noah Siegel (Amanita virosa) (Omphalotus olearius (DC.) Singer (33857)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
This week’s blog was written by guest blogger Dustin H. Purcell, MS. Dustin is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida. Many thanks to Dustin for his eerie contribution!
If you ever come across glowing toadstools in the woods, do not be alarmed. You are not imagining things or having an alien encounter. You are one of the few to have observed the bioluminescent (light generating) jack-o-lantern mushroom in person. It earned this name not only because of the spooky iridescent glow it emits but also because of the large clusters of pumpkin-orange mushrooms it produces. They grow on rotting logs and buried stumps and can be found in Florida sporadically throughout the year following rains… unfortunately, due to this year’s very dry October, you are not likely to find any this Halloween.
By Noah Siegel (Amanita virosa) (Omphalotus olearius (DC.) Singer (33856)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Like all mushrooms, this is a fungus and not a plant. Mycologists (scientists who study fungi) have named it Omphalotus olearius, though older field guides may call it Omphalotus illudens or Clitocybe illudens. It is relatively common in wooded areas throughout the southeast: You may have even seen its pumpkin-like masses of mushrooms during the day. However, few have witnessed its jack-o-lantern-like glow. The light is produced very dimly and requires the right combination of total darkness, a healthy growing mushroom, and eyes that are well adjusted to the dark… However, photographers easily capture their eerie green light on film using long exposures to magnify the intensity of this bioluminescent phenomenon. Many Pinellas county residents have witnessed two other bioluminescent phenomena that our area has to offer: fireflies (also called lightning bugs) and the phosphorescent glow of plankton in our warm coastal waters. If you’d like to add the jack o’lantern mushroom to the list of glowing creatures that you’ve seen, you have two options:

1. Wander without a flashlight through a wet forest on a dark moonless night far away from the light pollution of the city while hoping to see glowing toadstools, or

2. Keep your eyes peeled for a pumpkin-looking cluster of mushrooms in your yard and neighborhood

I would be a little reluctant to take option 1, especially on Halloween night. While not nearly as spooky, option 2 still may not be an easy task. Mushrooms, even glowing ones, can be very difficult to identify. Dr. James Kimbrough, a mycologist at the University of Florida, has written a field guide called Common Mushrooms of Florida that can help with the identification. Unless you have access to a mushroom expert, this IFAS book (or another good mushroom field guide) is probably your best bet. Once you find some, I’m told that you can collect them, wrap them in some moist (not soggy wet) paper towels to keep them from drying out, and take them into a dark closet to behold the spectacle of their eerie jack o’lantern glow.

In case you were wondering, this mushroom is poisonous! It is never recommended to eat mushrooms, except those found in the grocery store or farmers’ market… The chance of misidentification is too high, and the risks are too great… But there’s no reason to be scared of wild mushrooms (after all, they are a neat little bonus in the landscape), just don’t eat them.

IFAS Extension Bookstore link for Dr. Kimbrough’s book.

Firefly link.


Posted: October 28, 2010

Category: Home Landscapes
Tags: Fungus, Mushrooms


Tree Service Queens
June 1, 2012

A very good guide to beginning gardeners and arborists. One thing I can't stress enough when teaching about gardening is your placement. Look for whats above, behind, below, and what it could grow to block or overcome. Happy Gardening!

-Oscar Valencia

Julie Foster (jfoster@myoldsmar.com)
February 9, 2012

I was unable to make the live presentation today at 3:30 pm - any chance that someone video taped it for viewing later? Thanks!

October 27, 2011

Helpful knowledge.Especially 6 precaution. People should know about these things before hiring a contractor.Thanks for sharing highly valuable knowledge.
Foam Coating

October 24, 2011

Recycling helps the earth because it could save animals, it could save birds, puppies and all kinds of them. A lot of the animals that recycling helps to save are the ocean animals. There are a lot of animals in the ocean that mistake trash for food. They're eating things that we could be recycling. Check out this video: http://youtu.be/-H51E2gwXwc

west jordan roofing
October 24, 2011

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Jey Raul
October 21, 2011

Nice post. For having proper air in your home you got to be right with your ventilation works.

June 19, 2011

Have you read Teaming with Microbes? Good book that is doing a lot to help me understand the good side of fungus and all the other tiny stuff in the soil. Who knew?

June 19, 2011

I saw several nymphs this season for the first time ever. They are some of the more bizarre bugs to have in the garden, but I hope they'll have a good effect!

May 20, 2011

thank you for this post jane! really helped me out. I thought these were death killing bugs! Take care


May 1, 2011

We have the dog vomit slime mold for the first time in our yard as of this spring.

Thank you for this post, it is reassuring to see that what we are doing (organics ONLY) are making a difference!

April 18, 2011

Thanks Theresa, there was a host of the Slender Flattop Goldenrod, Euthamia Caroliniana, last Oct. in an open field now just knowing this species, and what I think is the Late flowering Thoroughwort, Eupatorium serotinum nearby in semishade making the bees crazy. Boca Raton, Fl. Eager-to-learn Master Gardener, Pat.

April 17, 2011

We have ongoing problems w/ this @ the city park where I work - I've tried rinsing the affected skin w/ hot water, which seems to help. I understand that cooking neutralizes the sting (people actually make tea from & even eat stinging nettle).

Web Design
April 4, 2011

This is not the first of your posts I've read, and you never cease to amaze me.Thank you, and I look forward to reading more.

The Dirt Farmer's Wife
March 10, 2011

Perfect timing as a handout at the nursery. Thank-you! Debra Butler, Golden Rain Nursery

November 13, 2010

this is a lovely tree and I have a large one growing in my backyard, come see it email me at bcaptivated@gmail.com I also have some in 1 gall. pots.

November 3, 2010

What a cool looking mushroom. I think I will take the writer's advice and avoid walking in the dark woods to find it though.

September 28, 2010

I love both the beauty berry and firebush together. Always have flowers or berries, bright colors, drought tolerant to a degree... Nice plants!

Theresa Badurek
September 16, 2010

You are welcome Becky- hopefully you don't find it!

September 14, 2010

I will be on the lookout for chamberbitter! Thank you for the description.

Tampa Becky
August 31, 2010

Thank you for the excellent tips. Not that I'm complaining about the rain.

April 28, 2010

I promise that the training sessions will be fun an informative. Legislature is a great challenge and incredibly rewarding. I hope you will join me to learn more.

Robert Williams

Term papers
January 12, 2010

I really like the pic of winter flowers. Your article is very well written cant wait to read more. Interesting Blog I really liked it.

Anthonisen Finch
August 22, 2009

Has there been any discussion as to why the population explosion of the spanworms occurred this year? Was it related to the very dry winter and spring (eliminating many wasps) followed by heavy rains which spurred the snowbush's growth?

lawn care
August 8, 2009

Great links! Thanks for sharing!

August 5, 2009

Great tips. I recommend that all DIYers mow tall in summer just to avoid additional pressure on struggling turf.
Organic fertilizers work well in summer to avoid excessive growth, as long as they have plenty of time to break down prior to those heavy storms you mention.

July 21, 2009

That was an important point you made about fertilizer use during this rainy time. Suggest all use slow-release fertilizers to avoid excess run-off of nitrogen & phosphorus into our waterways.

July 19, 2009

The lawn looks very poor.

July 1, 2009

Thanks for such great details. For the 37th Edition of the Festival of the Trees blog carnival, we talked about Survivor Trees. Your post was a fitting addition to the "Hurricane" section!

June 11, 2009

If there are free seminars to be conducted in your community you must grab it. The skills that you will learn from it will benefit your for life.

Pinellas County Extension
June 8, 2009

Please direct all of your Lawn & Garden question to hort@pinellascounty.org or call (727)582-2110

June 6, 2009

I got to this page from reading your article about laurel oaks. I would love to chat with you about a problem that I am having with one of the oaks on my property- either by phone, or email. If you could oblige me, I'll send you my email address.

Now, back to reading about these orchids!

Jessica Burkhart
February 2, 2009

Great contest! :) Good luck to the entrants.

December 7, 2008

I am fully behind the termination of Sevin use for anything that might come in contact with any beneficial life forms.

October 18, 2008

I hope that this will be lots of fun!

The Bates Family
October 8, 2008

Anyone know where I can get some good rain barrels? Not the plastic kind. I live here locally. Thanks! Kelli

August 20, 2008

Great Blog! If any of your readers are looking for Planters
or Window Boxes
there is a company called Hooks and Lattice that sells all different styles and
sizes. www.hooksandlattice.com

craig hartwig
July 15, 2008

I briefly read this early this month and discarded it, but while in downtown ST Augustine I saw a palm with symptoms that could be a diseased palm. This was the other day in the plaza (used to be called the slave market). That would be a big jump from Manatee / Hillsborough County, but other palms around this specimen in the area are healthy and it has been in the ground for some time. It probibly is anouther disease or deficiency. I have been in the nursery/ landscape business for 30 years and hate to see the infections that are effecting our major trees, citrus, bays, palms, next? Craig Hartwig.

Mary Beth
May 9, 2008

Jane Morse is a super cool Extension Agent. She really gets the job done!

Mary Beth Henry
May 9, 2008

Jane Morse is a super cool Extension Agent. She really gets the job done.

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