by Colleen Dabrowski
Omphalotus illudens, also known as the Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom, is a common mushroom found east of the Rocky Mountains that grows in late summer to fall. The Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom is easy to identify, as it has a bright orange color and grows in large clusters. The mushrooms are saprobic, meaning they decompose dead wood and matter in the soil. The cap of the Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom can be anywhere from 2 to 20-centimeters across and is a cup-like shape with a small bump at the center. The mushroom’s gills run down the entirety of the stem, which can be anywhere from 3 to 13 centimeters long. Perhaps the most remarkable quality of the Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom is that is bioluminescent Due to an enzyme called luciferase acting upon a compound called luciferin, the mushroom’s gills produce a blue-green glow in dim lighting. Dangerously, the Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom is poisonous to humans, however it is is easily confused with the Chanterelle Mushroom, which is commonly consumed. The Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom contains a toxin called muscarine, which, if consumed, results in symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. While consumption is not deadly, it may require hospitalization.
The Jack-o’-Lantern Mushroom pictured above can be found in front of the Hall of Sciences, though unfortunately, it is no longer alive.