Jack-o lantern mushrooms growing in a forest

The Complete Guide to Jack-O Lantern Mushrooms

If you’re walking through the forest and come across some glow in the dark mushrooms, don’t fret. There’s nothing magical going on.

You’ve probably just stumbled upon some jack-o-lantern mushrooms.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about jack-o-lantern mushrooms. 

You’ll learn what they look like, where to find them, whether you can eat them and more.

Jack-o lantern mushrooms growing in a forest

What are Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms?

Jack-o-lanterns (Latin name Omphalotus illudens) are a highly toxic variety of mushroom. 

Eating them can cause you to experience extreme stomach upset.

To the untrained eye, they look like chanterelle mushrooms.

Where Did They Get Their Name?

The jack-o-lantern mushroom likely gets its name from two of its distinct characteristics.

First of all, the jack-o-lantern mushroom has a dark yellow-orange color. It’s like the color of a pumpkin that you’d carve a jack-o-lantern from at Halloween.

Secondly, jack-o-lantern mushrooms have a very unique feature. You can see a jack-o-lantern mushroom glow in the dark! 

This definitely makes the jack-o-lantern mushroom at night seem a bit spooky and mysterious. 

The ability for an organism to produce and emit light is called bioluminescence.

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms get their ability to glow from an enzyme called Luciferase. This enzyme is found in the mushroom’s gills.

In fact, it’s only the gills of the jack-o-lantern mushroom that glow. The cap and stem do not contain any of this light-emitting chemical.

Luciferase is the same chemical compound that allows fireflies to glow.

The light that jack-o-lantern mushrooms give off is blue-green in color. 

Usually the light they give off is very dim. But sometimes, these mushrooms give off enough of a glow that you can read a book under them. 

Why Do Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Glow?

Scientists are not exactly sure why jack-o-lantern mushrooms glow in the dark.

One theory is that the light attracts nocturnal insects to help spread their spores around.

Others believe that the glow acts as a warning to nocturnal animals not to eat them. In this way, the glow might act like the bright colors found on some poisonous animal species as a warning.

Whatever the reason for their glow is, we think they look pretty cool.

Learn more about mushrooms that glow in the dark and other amazing mushroom facts.

What Do Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Look Like?

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms range in color from yellowish orange to bright orange.

Cap

Their caps can be between 2 – 8 inches (5 – 20 centimeters) wide. At first their caps are convex with a point or bump in the center. 

Over time, the caps become flat or funnel-shaped and sunken in the middle.

Spore prints from a jack-o-lantern mushroom are cream-colored.

The flesh of the mushroom does not change colors when sliced or torn.

Stalk

Jack-o-lantern mushroom stalks are also between 2 – 8 inches (5 – 20 centimeters) long.

They have sharp-edged gills that run down the stalk.

The stalk itself tapers toward the base and tends to be a more pale color than the cap.

Odor

Some jack-o-lantern mushrooms will have no distinctive odor. Other times, people describe them as having a sweet or floral odor.

The gills and stems of jack-o lantern mushrooms

How Big Do Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Get?

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms can reach a size of nearly 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall. That’s if you’re measuring both the stem and cap, and starting right at the base.

They’re quite big for a mushroom. Although not the size of a jack-o-lantern pumpkin!

Are Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Rare? 

The rarity of jack-o-lantern mushrooms will depend on the area that you live in.

In western North America, these mushrooms are very rare. But in other places, they can be quite common.

When you do find jack-o-lantern mushrooms, they’re usually growing in large clusters.

Other gray or brown mushrooms can be harder to spot against the forest floor. The bright orange color of jack-o-lantern mushrooms makes them harder to miss.

Jack-o lantern mushrooms growing on a tree stump

Where Are Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Found?

In North America, jack-o-lantern mushrooms are common. This is particularly true in the midwestern and eastern United States. 

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are also found in northern and central Europe. The European variant is a different species, Latin name Omphalotus olearius.

The European variant typically has a darker cap with more pale gills.

In both Europe and North America, jack-o-lantern mushrooms are found at the base of trees and stumps.

Jack-o-lanterns are a type of saprobic fungi, which means they are decomposers. They break down organic matter to get their energy.

You can find these mushrooms growing in large clusters where hardwood trees grow.

They are most commonly found near oak trees in particular.

Sometimes mushrooms can seem to pop up from nowhere. Where do Mushrooms Come From? All Questions Answered explains how they really get there.

What Time of Year Do Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Grow?

You can find jack-o-lantern mushrooms growing from late summer to fall. 

They can show up any time between July and October, depending on your specific area.

Can You Eat Them?

Is the jack-o-lantern mushroom edible? No. They aren’t edible and should not be eaten.

Jack-o-lanterns are attractive-looking and common in many areas. As a result, they’re responsible for many cases of mushroom poisonings every year.

For healthy adults, eating jack-o-lantern mushrooms is usually not life-threatening. However, they can cause mild to severe stomach upset.

What Happens if You Eat a Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom?

If you eat a jack-o-lantern mushroom, you may become very ill for several days.

Symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Dry heaving
  • Profuse sweating
  • “The chills” or shivering (medically referred to as “rigors”)
  • Irregular breathing

We’ve also read some first-hand reports that the toxins in jack-o-lantern mushrooms will cause the food in your stomach to coagulate. 

This can make vomiting more difficult and presents a choking hazard.

A close up view of a jack-o lantern mushroom

How Long Does It Take To Get Sick From a Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom?

Most people start to feel sick about one or two hours after eating the mushrooms.

The negative effects usually last for about 24 hours. It’s not uncommon for people to take a few days before they start to feel normal again.

What Do Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Taste Like?

People who have been unlucky enough to eat jack-o-lantern mushrooms actually report that they taste pretty good.

The texture is a bit tougher than you might expect. But the mushrooms have a sweet or floral smell and taste to them.

This makes them particularly dangerous. Especially if you think you’re eating one of their edible look-alikes. There is no immediate bitter or unpleasant taste to warn you to stop eating.

What do other kinds of mushrooms taste like? Learn more from our Mushroom Taste Guide: How 16 Popular Mushrooms Taste

Are Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms Poisonous To Touch?

No, jack-o-lantern mushrooms aren’t poisonous to the touch. You won’t absorb the toxins through your skin or become sick just from touching them.

However, you probably don’t want to risk it.

There’s always a chance that you’ll get toxins on your hands and then touch your mouth. 

If you’ve been handling these mushrooms enough, there’s a chance that you could become sick from this alone.

What Other Types of Mushrooms Are Jack-O-Lanterns Confused With?

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are most commonly confused with the delicious and highly-prized chanterelle mushrooms.

More specifically, Cantharellus lateritius (smooth chanterelle) and Cantharellus cibarius (golden chanterelle). 

Jack-o-lanterns can also be confused with honey fungus (armillaria mellea). 

Honey mushrooms are a very popular wild mushroom in European countries. Especially in Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. 

Honey mushrooms

How Do You Tell a Jack-O-Lantern From a Chanterelle?

Jack-o-lantern mushroom vs chanterelle is a comparison that you should be considering whenever picking wild chanterelles to eat.

Chanterelle mushrooms have a similar shape and color to jack-o-lanterns. However, they tend to be more yellow than orange.

Chanterelles don’t have true gills on their undersides. They can be distinguished from jack-o-lanterns from the fact that they have ridges instead of gills.

Jack-o-lanterns have sharp, non-forking gills.

Chanterelle mushrooms usually grow on the forest floor, not on wood. 

Jack-o-lanterns typically grow on wood. Although sometimes they can be growing on buried wood. This can give the illusion that they’re growing on soil.

You will usually find chanterelle mushrooms growing by themselves. You won’t find them growing in large or dense clusters like jack-o-lanterns.

Finally, you can peel the stems of your mushroom open and examine the inside. Chanterelles tend to be more pale inside compared to jack-o-lanterns.

Be sure to check out the Complete Guide To Chanterelle Mushrooms to learn more about these tasty wild edibles.

Chanterelle mushrooms

Can You (And Would You) Want To Grow Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms? 

Yes, you can grow jack-o-lantern mushrooms. 

You don’t want to grow them to eat, but they make nice-looking ornamental fungi to grow in your yard.

You can buy sawdust spawn or dowel plugs online to start growing your own jack-o-lantern mushrooms.

They prefer to grow on or near oak wood. But they will grow on most hardwoods. They’ve been grown on chestnut, beech, oleaster and olive trees with success.

Possible Anti-cancer Properties of Jack- O Lantern Mushrooms

Just because jack-o-lantern mushrooms are poisonous to eat, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use them as medicine.

Studies have found that jack-o-lantern mushrooms contain a compound called irofulven. 

Irofulven shows promise at fighting several types of hard-to-treat cancers. These diseases include ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Compounds in the jack-o-lantern mushroom also show promise for possible use as an antibiotic. This isn’t too surprising. Many other antibiotics like penicillin also come from fungi.

Many common types of mushrooms have health benefits. Medicinal Mushrooms: The Complete Guide will teach you which to look for.

Jack-o lantern mushrooms growing in a garden lawn

What Are the Orange Mushrooms in My Yard?

There are several different species of orange mushrooms that can grow in grass or on wood.

Some of these mushrooms are edible, while others are very poisonous.

Without more details, it’s really impossible for us to say.

Never eat a mushroom that you can’t identify with 100% confidence.

Mushroom identification apps may help, but if you aren’t sure, leave it alone! You can still enjoy looking at it without eating it.

Our article Backyard Mushrooms: What They Are + Why They’re Growing There is also worth checking out for some more details.

Final Thoughts

The jack-o-lantern mushroom is a very unique and interesting-looking mushroom.

Not only is it bright orange in color, but it even has the ability to glow in the dark.

Despite its pretty appearance, this isn’t a mushroom that you want to eat. 

The jack-o-lantern is most commonly confused with chanterelle mushrooms. 

However, if you’re unfortunate enough to make this mistake, you’re going to end up feeling very ill for at least a day or two.

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