Bioluminescence is the production and emission of visible light from living organisms. In the plant world, a number of fungi possess bioluminescent properties that cause them to glow in the dark. The glowing occurs when a pigment reacts with an enzyme and oxygen to create light. Bioluminescent fungi might have evolved to attract insects that help with spore dispersal.
Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms
Jack o'lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olearius) are bright orange fungi that typically grow in clusters on dead wood. These trumpet-shaped mushrooms generally grow between 1 and 4 inches high. The gills on the underside of the mushroom glow in the dark. The greenish glow is caused by the presence of luciferase, an enzyme created when this mushroom gets rid of waste products. The poisonous jack o’lantern mushroom is often mistaken for the edible chantrelle mushroom. Poisoning symptoms can last for several days after ingestion and typically include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Jack o’lantern mushrooms have been spotted in California and Pennsylvania.
The ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis) is a glow-in-the-dark mushroom that generally sprouts in clusters at the bases of dead or dying trees. These large mushrooms have been spotted in Tasmania and the southern regions of Australia. Ghost fungi are funnel-shaped mushrooms with white gills and brown, orange, purple or gray caps. Although the entire mushroom gives off a slight greenish glow, the gills are usually the most luminescent. Ghost mushrooms can give out enough light that people can read in a dark room. These mushrooms are only bioluminescent when they are young. This poisonous mushroom is often confused with the edible oyster mushroom. The ghost fungus causes severe vomiting if ingested.
Honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea) grow in the eastern states of North America and in northern California. Honey mushrooms typically grow in large clusters on hardwoods during wet autumn months. These parasitic fungi have smooth, honey yellow caps and white gills. The roots of the honey mushroom glow in the dark. As these roots, called rhizomorphs, extend under the bark of the host tree, the wood also seems to glow. This phenomenon is often called "foxfire." Mushroom hunters should beware because the edible honey mushroom looks similar to the poisonous Deadly Galerine mushroom.
Tsukiyotake mushrooms (Omphalotus japonicus), also called moonlight mushrooms, are relatives of the jack o'lantern mushroom indigenous to Asia. This poisonous mushroom prefers to cluster on conifer wood. It fruits from late autumn to mid-winter and features pale gills. This glow-in-the-dark mushroom is often mistaken for the edible oyster mushroom.
Bitter Oyster Mushrooms
Bitter oyster mushrooms (Panellus stipticus), also called luminescent panellus, grow in clusters on rotting wood across North America. This mushroom has a white to tan cap, a fuzzy stem and white gills that glow in the dark. Panellus stipticus typically sprouts from May through December and is more common in the eastern states than in the west.