Omphalotus olearius is the Latin name for the interesting jack o’lantern mushroom. Famous for its bright color and bioluminescent properties, the jack o’lantern is also a poisonous mushroom.
This mushroom contains the toxin muscarine, which causes severe cramps and diarrhea. It is not deadly, but consuming this species may require hospitalization.
The problem is that the jack o’lantern mushroom is often mistaken for certain types of gourmet chanterelles. Given the popularity of the delicious chanterelle mushroom, poisoning yourself with a jack o’lantern can be a real concern if you’re not careful!
Follow this link for an in-depth article on chanterelle mushroom identification.
Jack o’Lantern Mushroom Facts
- Colors range from bright orange to an orange-y green on the cap and stem.
- The cap is smooth and convex to flat at first. Often they start to point up with age.
- The stem is smooth, with no ring on the top or sac at the base.
- Usually found growing in clusters.
- This species is a saprotroph, meaning it feeds on dead material. They tend to grow on dead hardwoods, mainly oaks.
- Appears in late summer through fall (or winter on the West Coast).
- Like so many mushrooms, there is a current debate about the correct name. Omphalotus olearius is a European species that may not be the same as the North American one. The debate still rages, with some insisting that what is called Omphalotus olearius in North America is actually Omphalotus illudens (East coast) or Omphalotus olivascens (West coast).
- They glow in the dark! Well, not intensely but the jack o’lantern mushroom does have a bioluminescent enzyme which causes the gills to glow a faint blue-green color in the dark. How cool is that?
A Chanterelle Look-Alike
If you’re going to start hunting for chanterelle mushrooms, it’s important to know how to distinguish them from the poisonous Omphalotus olearius. A chanterelle mushroom identification lesson from a hands-on expert is encouraged. Never solely identify anything by what you’ve read on the Internet!
That said, the easiest way to distinguish a poisonous jack o’lantern mushroom from an edible chanterelle is by looking at the gills. The jack o’lantern has sharp, non-forked, knife-like gills that could be carefully picked off. A chanterelle has false gills, which are folds or wrinkles on the underside of the mushroom and not easily picked off.
When I first learned to identify chanterelles the gills were described to me as having a “melted” appearance. I still love this explanation! I really do think chanterelle gills look more like melted ridges than real gills.
The best way for a novice to learn how to really distinguish between the two is to see them in real life. When mushroom hunting, take the time to compare any chanterelles in your area to a local jack o’lantern.
With a little practice you’ll never have an unpleasant surprise when hunting for chanterelles, and you may just get to see a jack o’lantern mushroom glow in the dark!
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