Jack o’lantern mushrooms are known for their bright orange clusters that sometimes glow in the dark. But they are poisonous and easy to confuse with some edible mushrooms, so it’s important to be able to recognize them properly. In this article, we’ll talk about how to identify a jack o’lantern mushroom and how to tell it apart from its most popular edible lookalike, the chanterelle.
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How Do I Know if I Picked a Jack O’Lantern Mushroom?
Jack o’lanterns are poisonous mushrooms that grow during the same season as the chanterelle–a similar looking mushroom that’s edible. Both the jack o’lantern and the chanterelle grow during summer and fall.
With this in mind, it’s extremely important to know how to identify each one individually and be able to tell them apart. We’ll talk more about telling them apart in a few minutes, but for now, let’s discuss how to know if the mushroom you just picked is a jack o’lantern.
Jack o’lanterns are usually dark yellow, amber, or orange in color. They tend to grow in large, tightly packed clusters, though on rare occasions they can be found growing singly.
Young jack o’lanterns have smooth, rounded caps that flatten out and become more funnel-shaped as they mature. The caps often break apart and curl as they flatten.
Check out this timelapse video to get an idea of how jack o’lanterns grow and change over time.
Jack o’lanterns grow near or on dead trees and pieces of decaying wood. Even if it looks like they are growing from the ground, their mycelium is attached to dead pieces of wood or roots underground.
The underside of a jack o’lantern cap has firm, distinct gills that extend down the relatively narrow stem. These gills can be separated fairly easily, especially using a knife or tweezers.
Like some other poisonous mushrooms, jack o’lanterns are able to glow in the dark. This is due to a luminescent enzyme known as luciferase that is present in the mushrooms.
Where are Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms Found?
As noted above, jack o’lanterns grow from dead tree stumps or pieces of wood. Sometimes they can be found growing directly from the dead wood, such as on old rotting logs or at the base of tree stumps; other times they appear to grow from the ground near dead trees, sprouting from rotting wood or roots buried underground.
Jack o’lanterns grow widely in woodland regions of Europe but can also be found in parts of North America and Africa. They may grow in a variety of temperate woodland areas as long as the weather is warm and moist and there are hardwood trees (especially dead ones) present.
How Do You Tell a Jack O’Lantern from a Chanterelle?
If you’re new to hunting mushrooms, you may be concerned about confusing jack o’lanterns with chanterelles. While it is true that these mushrooms can look quite similar, they have many distinct characteristics to help you tell them apart.
First, it will help to check out the following video. It will give you a great video and make it easier to distinguish the poisonous jack o’lantern from the edible chanterelle.
Chanterelles come in a variety of colors including yellow, pink, white, black, and red. The yellow ones are the only ones that may be confused with jack o’lanterns, but they are almost always a lighter, softer shade of yellow whereas jack o’lanterns are usually darker and brighter.
Chanterelles have thick ridges sometimes known as “false gills;” these may vary in appearance depending on the chanterelle, but they are rarely well defined and, in most cases, are not easily separated from the mushroom caps. They are called false gills because they rarely have the classic mushroom gill appearance.
On the other hand, jack o’lanterns’ gills are usually firmer, more well-defined, and more closely attached to the cap. They are smooth and well-structured, and they always have the classic mushroom gill appearance.
If you slice them open, chanterelles are usually whitish inside and may have a cheese-like appearance. Jack o’lanterns are pale yellow inside, and the flesh has a more woody appearance.
One major difference is that chanterelles typically grow more singly or than jack o’lanterns. Chanterelles may occasionally grow in clusters, but these clusters are usually smaller and not so tightly packed together as jack o’lantern clusters.
Chanterelle usually grow singly or scattered; clusters rarely contain more than about 5 or 6 mushrooms. Jack o’lanterns , as noted above, are usually found in dense clusters, which may contain 12 or more mushrooms, and very rarely grow singly.
Another major difference is that chanterelles tend to grow near live hardwoods, as they have a mycorrhizal relationship with these trees. Also, chanterelles never grow directly from the wood–they are always found growing from the ground.
Chanterelles typically have a fruity, sweet sort of aroma, while jack o’lanterns have a more non-distinct mushroomy smell.
Can You Touch a Jack O’Lantern Mushroom?
Despite their status as a poisonous mushroom, jack o’lanterns are perfectly safe to touch. Their toxins can only be absorbed through digestion, so you have to eat them to be poisoned by them.
That said, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash your hands after handling them. Always be careful not to put your fingers or anything else that has touched a jack o’lantern in your mouth until you’ve washed with soap and clean running water.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, accidentally ingesting jack o’lanterns should not prove life-threatening to most healthy adults. Still, their toxins can cause severe stomach upset that leads to vomiting and diarrhea, which in turn can cause dehydration, so it’s best to avoid eating them and use caution when handling them.
Jack o’lantern mushrooms look similar to the edible chanterelle mushrooms, but they are usually darker yellow and grow in larger clusters than chanterelles. They are usually found growing on or near dead trees, while chanterelles are always found growing from the ground under live trees.