The Jack O’Lantern Mushroom
The Jack O’Lantern mushroom is classified into two main species; Omphalotus illudens from the East and Omphalotus olearius from the West. It is a poisonous mushroom, meaning it’s not edible, named after its glow and dark orange color. Since this mushroom is poisonous and commonly mistaken for edible species like Chanterelle, we will guide you on identifying it.
This article explores the Jack O’Lantern mushroom in detail to help you in your next foraging experience. We have covered how to identify the mushrooms, their effects when consumed, and more. Stay tuned!
Where Does Jack O ‘Lantern Mushroom Grow?
The Jack O’Lantern is available in the summer and fall. They usually grow in large clusters on buried wood, stumps, or at the base of trees. During summer and fall, the mushrooms are readily available, confusing with their attractive colors. You can find them in many parts of Europe and North America. In North America, the mushrooms are commonly spotted around the Rocky Mountains, especially to the East.
Like most fungi, these mushrooms are essential in the ecosystem. They help get nutrients back into the soil by feeding on dead hardwood. As long as you don’t consume them, they have no problem in the ecosystem.
How Do You Identify a Jack O ‘Lantern Mushroom?
Identifying Jack O ‘Lantern mushrooms is easy, but only if you have some experience in foraging. We already understand that we have two Jack O ‘Lanterns; Omphalatus illudens and Omphalotus olearius. These two have almost similar characteristics, but some differentiate them.
Fortunately, we are here to help you out with some physical characteristics to look for in a Jack O’Lantern mushroom. Most of these characteristics are easy to identify for those willing to try foraging.
Let’s begin with the cap, which forms the major part of the mushroom. Both species of the Jack O’Lantern mushroom have golden orange to dark orange caps, but the color fades over time. The easiest way to differentiate the two species is that O. olearius have relatively darker caps than O. illudens.
The size of the caps can range somewhere between 3-20 centimeters, depending on the region and other growth conditions. They may also have a nipple-like bump on the center of the cap with an in-rolled margin at the beginning. The margins, later after development, get upturned.
Gills have distinct characteristics that you can also look for besides the color of the cap. Unlike other wild mushrooms with forking gills, Jack O’Lantern comes with thin and straight gills. The gills are also closer together than ordinary mushrooms, where you can spot spaces in between.
In terms of color, the gills are yellow-orange. Their color is also brighter when compared to that of the caps. Claims that Jack O’Lantern glows are valid. When fresh, the gills have a bioluminescent glow that makes the mushroom visible at night.
One fun thing about these mushrooms is their height. On many occasions, the mushroom height is equal to the diameter of the caps or something close to that. We already said the caps are about 3-20 cm, so expect the height also to range there. As for the color, it is usually similar to that of the gills.
Does Jack O ‘Lantern Glow?
Whether Jack O’Lantern mushrooms glow or not is a widely debated topic. Maybe the debate is generally heated because only the gills glow and not the entire plant. But as we mentioned earlier in this article, the gills of these mushrooms can illuminate at night when fresh. They usually give a faint blue-green glow.
Many people have reported seeing the mushroom’s glow at night when their eyes have fully adjusted to the dark. It isn’t easy to see the glow immediately after switching off the lights. Although others claim that the glow is not that visible, maybe because the mushrooms are not fresh or because of other factors.
Luciferase, a bioluminescent enzyme, is responsible for the glow Jack O’Lantern mushroom exhibit. This is the same compound that brings about glowing in the fireflies. Luciferase is a Latin name meaning light-bearing.
However, it should be noted that the enzyme helps the two living organisms differently. For the fireflies, the glow is used to warn predators away, while that is not the case for mushrooms. Jack O’Lantern mushrooms use the glow as a non-bug lamp that helps keep their species by attracting insects. The glow attracts insects that are used to spread mushroom spores from one place to another.
Is the Jack O’Lantern Mushroom Safe to Eat?
From the word go, Jack O’Lantern is a non-edible mushroom. Although it is said to have a pleasant taste when cooked, the afterward results are not appealing like its taste. They are poisonous and likely to result in gastrointestinal distress after consumption.
While the results may not be as fatal as other mushrooms, its consumption will likely result in extreme body weakness, nausea, and vomiting. People occasionally confuse Jack O’Lantern with edible Chanterelle mushrooms. This is a common occurrence when amateurs go foraging without enough background information on identifying some species of mushrooms. Later in this article, we have covered the difference between Jack O’Lantern and Chanterelle mushrooms.
So what should you do in case of Jack O’Lantern mushroom poisoning?
The first step is getting medical care because of excessive vomiting and body weakness. Your body may fail to perform some crucial functions because muscles are tired. Seeking medical attention helps to stabilize your body before you can try other remedies.
Experts recommend intravenous rehydration to get the lost water back into your body. Testing potassium levels and basic liver functionality is also necessary, to be sure, just in case.
The Difference Between Jack O’Lantern and Chanterelle Mushrooms
The significant and noticeable difference between these two is that Chanterelle is edible while Jack O’Lantern is not. The two are almost similar in terms of physical appearances, and most people have confused them in the past. This is why Jack O’Lantern is also called “false Chanterelle.” Here are the significant differences;
If you are not color blind, it is easier to differentiate the two mushrooms based on that, but that is discussed below. As aforementioned, the Jack O’Lantern has a golden orange or darker orange color. Their gills are relatively brighter than the caps. Since color may give some people problems identifying, the shape can therefore be used instead.
Although Jack O’Lantern gills look like those that fork, taking a closer look will show you that they are so close but have no form of forking. On the other hand, Chanterelle gills fork and may look like wax on some occasions.
Typically, most mushrooms grow with full or dark colors when young but fade out as they mature. That is what happens in the two types of mushrooms, making it relatively difficult to use color. Newbies are likely to get more confused with the colors than experienced foragers.
The Jack O’Lantern caps are dark brown when the mushroom is young but fade with maturity. On the other hand, Chanterelle varies in colors depending on the environment. Chanterelle mushrooms can range from white to orange or even golden yellow.
The varieties that appear orange are the most confusing because they resemble Jack O’Lantern. Luckily, you can use other characteristics to differentiate them. The color should only give you the first impression to go and do further inspection.
The scent is relatively tricky to use when identifying mushrooms unless you are experienced. Most mushrooms have almost similar aromas, but for Chanterelle, it is different. Experts claim that Chanterelle has a fruitier scent than its look-alike, Jack O’Lantern. O. olearius and O. illudenus usually have an essential scent that is not easily recognized from a distance.
Chanterelle mushrooms grow alone or in small clusters. JackO’Lantern, on the other hand, grows in clusters. Another difference is that Chanterelle does not grow on wood, but Jack O’Lantern does. However, you can find Chanterelle close to trees or under them.
How Long Does It Take to Get Sick from Jack O’Lantern Mushrooms?
There is no exact time that the mushroom effects from Jack O’Lantern mushroom take to kick in. But what we know is that they take the shortest time before you begin feeling the effects. The first sign is usually nausea before severe vomiting starts. The body weakening then follows that as it loses a lot of water through vomiting.
Some of the factors that determine how quickly you will get sick include genetic makeup. People with a relatively strong genetic makeup tend to be more tolerant than others. The quantity you take also determines how fast and severe the symptoms will be. Taking a lot is likely to leave you hospitalized for some days.
It is essential to understand the effects that wild mushrooms have, both negative and positive. Foraging for your mushroom is okay, but only when you know how to identify look-alikes of edible mushrooms. Consuming poisonous mushrooms can lead to death in extreme cases.
In case of mushroom poisoning, like Jack O’Lantern, causes severe vomiting, we recommend taking more water as you seek medical attention in the nearest facility. But to be safe, get your edible mushrooms from a supplement store if you are not sure of the characteristics.