What’s orange and glows at night?
A pumpkin, carved into jack o’lantern, is the obvious answer.
That’s especially true this time of year, but it isn’t the only one.
West Virginia is also home to the jack o’lantern mushroom which shares the characteristic orange color, and also has the ability to glow from within, according to mycology experts.
The rich color makes it easy to see, and it has been dubbed “one of the most spectacular of all mushrooms,” by biologist Bill Roody in his book “Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians.”
“It sometimes occurs in enormous clusters that can be seen from a distance, or even spotted from a moving vehicle,” Roody wrote.
Spooky, also, because these clusters can sometimes seemingly appear out of nowhere.
In reality, however, they sometimes grow in lawns and grassy places from the remaining root system of trees that are no longer present.
Talk about eery.
This mushroom has the unusual ability to do what scientists call bioluminesce, or simply stated, glow in the dark.
Some describe it as yellow-green or blue-green glow in the gills.
Why does that happen? And how?
Mycologists say this is due to a chemical reaction similar to the process that allows fireflies to also glow in the dark.
An enzyme known as luciferase acts upon another compound (luciferin) and that leads to the emission of light.
Want to see for yourself?
Here’s some advice from the Cornell Mushroom Blog:
“To see the glow in real time, locate a clump of jack o’lanterns and sit with them in the woods on a dark night. Give your eyes 5 to 10 minutes to adjust, because that’s how faint it is.”
But there’s more to the story.
State forests, fields and even yards are home to this as well as hundreds of other different types of mushrooms.
After proper identification, many varieties are edible and highly sought after by foragers.
It is not always easy to tell the good from the bad, at least when it comes to edible versus nonedible.
Such is the case with the jack o’lantern mushroom.
Although they have a slightly fruit aroma, don’t be fooled because they are poisonous.
Novice mushroom hunters have been known to confuse them with chanterelles since both have a similar color and general appearance.
This kind of mistake can mean painful stomach cramps, diarrhea and cramps if a jack o’lantern mushroom is eaten instead of a chanterelle.