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Omphalotus illudens

[ Basidiomycota > Agaricales > Marasmiaceae > Omphalotus . . . ]

by Michael Kuo

Often called the "Jack O'Lantern Mushroom," this species is fairly easy to identify. It grows in clusters on wood, its colors are bright orange, its gills run down the stem, it has a white to pale yellow spore print, and its flesh, when sliced open, is orange (or at least orangish). It is a common fall mushroom east of the Rocky Mountains, and is frequently found in urban settings, sprouting from and around dead trees and stumps. West of the Rockies, it is very rare, and generally replaced by the very similar Omphalotus olivascens, which is distinguished by the olive shades that are mixed in with the orange.

The Jack O'Lantern mushroom is sometimes confused with chanterelles--especially when it appears to be growing terrestrially rather than from wood (see the top illustration). However, chanterelles rarely grow in dense clusters, and feature false gills, while the Jack O'Lantern is usually clustered and features true gills.

The European species Omphalotus olearius is very similar, but differs in usually having a darker cap and paler gills, along with smaller spores and a cap that does not feature a central bump. It does not occur in North America--but Omphalotus illudens does occur in Europe (at least, in central and northern Europe), where the two species can be confused.

The Jack O'Lantern is the focus of the largest and most insidious conspiracy in the mycological world. According to every field guide, and every other source of literature available for the species, its gills glow in the dark. I'm not making this up; pick up any mushroom book that describes the Jack O'Lantern, and you'll find the author coolly mentioning the "luminescence" of the gills, or telling stories about 19th-Century pioneers finding their way back to their cabins, in the dark, following the Jack O'Lantern's glowing gills.

All of these authors are lying, and they are in cahoots. See, what they enjoy is knowing that hundreds of amateur mushroomers, every fall, shut themselves into closets, bathrooms, and garages, eagerly peering through the darkness for hours, waiting for the Jack O'Lantern's gills to luminesce.

I have wasted at least three hours of my life in this endeavor, over the years. Three hours! Every time I collect Omphalotus illudens, I think to myself: "These are fresh specimens; surely this time I'll see it." Then I seclude myself in darkness and hover, waiting . . . and waiting, and waiting. This last time, after nearly half an hour, I finally began to see the gills glow in the dark, an eerie green color--until I held my hand over my eyes and noticed that the glowing gills were still there.

I am here to tell you: The emperor is naked! Don't make a fool of yourself, as I regularly do. After years of trying to see the luminescent gills I have reached the obvious conclusion: mushroom authors are out to make me feel like an idiot. And don't bother sending an e-mail to tell me you have seen the Jack O'Lantern's glowing gills, or to send a photo of the phenomenon, because I will know you are part of the conspiracy, and that the photo was produced by the same people who made the photos of the Loch Ness Monster.

Description:

Ecology: Saprobic; growing in large clusters on the stumps or buried roots of hardwoods, especially oaks; late summer and fall; widely distributed and common east of the Rocky Mountains; very rare in western North America. Also found in northern and central Europe. The illustrated and described collections are from Illinois and Québec.

Cap: 3-20 cm; at first convex, with a central bump or point; becoming more or less flat, and eventually shallowly vase-shaped--but usually retaining a small central "nipple"; bald; dry or slightly greasy; bright orange to pumpkin orange; the margin inrolled when young.

Gills: Running down the stem; close or crowded; bright orange to pale orange; luminescent when fresh.

Stem: 3-13 cm long; 1-2 cm thick; tapering to base; solid; bald; pale orange to orange.

Flesh: Pale orange; unchanging when sliced.

Odor and Taste: Odor not distinctive.

Chemical Reactions: KOH green on cap surface; ammonia greenish on cap surface.

Spore Print: White to creamy or pale yellow.

Microscopic Features: Spores 3.5-4.5 µ; subglobose; smooth; hyaline to yellowish in KOH. Hymenial cystidia absent. Pileipellis a cutis of clamped, cylindric elements 2.5-7.5 µ wide; yellow in KOH. Refractive elements scattered to frequent in the pileipellis and subpellis.

REFERENCES: (Schweinitz, 1822) Bresinsky & Besl, 1979. (Saccardo, 1887; Kauffman, 1918; Smith, Smith & Weber, 1979; Weber & Smith, 1985; Arora, 1986; Phillips, 1991/2005; Lincoff, 1992; Metzler & Metzler, 1992; Horn, Kay & Abel, 1993; Barron, 1999; Kirchmair & Pöder, 2002; Kirchmair et al., 2002; Roody, 2003; Kirchmair et al., 2004; McNeil, 2006; Miller & Miller, 2006; Binion et al., 2008; Kuo & Methven, 2010; Kuo & Methven, 2014.) Herb. Kuo 08309701, 07290701, 08231404.


Further Online Information:

Omphalotus illudens at Roger's Mushrooms

 

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens

Omphalotus illudens
KOH, ammonia

Omphalotus illudens
Spores

Omphalotus illudens
Pileipellis: refractive hypha



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Kuo, M. (2015, March). Omphalotus illudens. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/omphalotus_illudens.html