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Jack O’Lantern Mushroom: Key Facts

Did you know that jack o’lantern mushrooms can glow in the dark? How about that they are poisonous, but they look like several edible mushroom varieties? Read on to learn more about these and other jack o’lantern mushroom key facts.

Quick Facts About Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms

Scientific NameOmphalotus
Physical DescriptionMedium-sized mushrooms that are amber to orange in color. They grow in clusters from dead and decaying wood. Caps are round and smooth, and they flatten and tear as they age. Gills are perfectly parallel and fairly soft. Stems are yellow in color and have a woody appearance.
DistributionEurope, parts of Africa and North America
HabitatTemperate woodlands and hardwood forests
Edible?No
Symptoms of Poisoning– Nausea
– Vomiting
– Diarrhea
– Stomach cramps
AromaNon-distinct and “mushroomy.”
Growth PatternsTypically grows in clusters of at least twelve mushrooms. The mushrooms are tightly packed in each cluster. Rarely, large jack o’lanterns are found growing singly or scattered.
Lookalikes– Chanterelles
– Wild Yellow Oysters
– Chicken of the woods
– Honey
– Waxy caps
Identifying Features– Grow from dead wood
– Glow in the dark
– Distinctive, classic mushroom gills

What Are Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms?

Jack o’lanterns are poisonous mushrooms often mistaken for edibles. Eating them won’t kill you but will give you a bad stomach ache plus several days of vomiting and diarrhea.

These mushrooms are dark yellow, amber, or orange in color. An enzyme in their gills known as luciferase makes them bioluminescent, or able to glow in the dark. 

They usually grow in dense clusters from dead and decaying wood. According to the University of Virginia, the source wood may be buried underground or under leaf litter, making it look like the mushrooms are growing directly from the ground like chanterelles. 

Jack o’lanterns are found growing in woodland regions in the summer and fall. They are easy to mistake for other mushroom varieties.

What mushroom varieties, you ask?

What Other Mushrooms Do Jack O’Lanterns Look Like?

  • Chanterelles: These edible mushrooms come in many colors but are frequently yellow, with wavy funnel-shaped caps that are easy to confuse with mature jack o’lanterns. However, chanterelles grow from the ground rather than from wood, and they tend to grow singly or in small, loose clusters of no more than six mushrooms.
  • Wild yellow oysters: Like chanterelles, oyster mushrooms come in different colors, and the yellow ones are easy to confuse with jack o’lanterns because they grow in large, tightly-packed clusters and directly from dead or decaying wood. However, oyster clusters tend to be much larger than jack o’lantern clusters, and the mushrooms themselves are also larger and flatter.
  • Chicken of the woods: Chicken of the woods is often yellow or orange and grows in clusters from dead wood. However, this type of mushroom has no stem, and its fanlike appearance is ruffly from the beginning.
  • Honey: These mushrooms tend to grow in small to medium clusters of tightly packed fruits, and their caps are round and smooth before flattening with age. However, honey mushrooms are much duller in color than jack o’lanterns–typically brown, beige, gray, or pale yellow.
  • Waxy caps: These brightly colored mushrooms sometimes grow in clusters, and their cap shape is similar to jack o’lanterns. However, they frequently come in bright red, orange, or yellow, their stems are typically more narrow, and their caps are distinctively shiny, giving them the appearance of being freshly waxed.

Check out this video to learn more about each of these mushrooms and how to distinguish them from jack o’lanterns.

Conclusion

Jack o’lanterns are poisonous yellow or orange mushrooms with several edible lookalikes. They grow in woodland regions throughout Europe, as well as parts of Africa and North America.

Read also about other forest mushrooms – here are our guides about Lion’s Mane, Lobsters, Morels.

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