Bioluminescent mushroom Panellus stipticus begins to glow at night

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Out of this world

Of all the wild and wonderful things to find in the wilderness, mushrooms are by far the most bizarre. They sprout up in wooded areas throughout the world, adding a fantastical element with their strange appearance. They will catch your attention in the daytime – but wait until you see these fungi at night.

There's even a name for the mysterious glow from mushrooms: foxfire. Scientists have hypothesized that the bright bluish-green light is meant to attract insects.

More than 70 species of bioluminescent mushrooms exist on Earth, and though some may be drab during the daytime, all are mesmerizing at night. Take a look at some of the most supernatural of nature's night lights.

* * * 
 
Bioluminescent mushroom Panellus stipticus grows on branch

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Panellus stipticus

Panellus stipticus, also shown in the gif at the beginning of this post, is one of the brightest-glowing mushrooms in the forest. These flat fungi take hold of branches and become dazzling decorations as soon as the sun sets.

* * * 
Panellus pusillus mushrooms growing on a tree branch in daylight

Photo: Allison Harrington/flickr

Panellus pusillus

Another bioluminescent member of the Panellus genus, Panellus pusillus takes over tree branches in large groups. The result is like sparkling string lights in the dark forest.

* * * 
 
 
Armillaria mellea

Photo: MarkMirror/Shutterstock

Armillaria mellea

These orange-hued mushrooms can be found North America all the way to Asia, making them the most widespread of all bioluminescent fungi. The part of the Armillaria mellea fungus that glows is the mycelium, the bottom part of the mushroom that isn't usually visible. So what's the point of emitting light if that part of the fungus is invisible? Scientists hypothesize it may be quite the opposite effect of glowing mushroom caps – to discourage animals from eating it.

* * * 
 
Armillaria gallica

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Armillaria gallica

One of four other bioluminescent species in the Armarilla ("honey mushroom") genus, Armillaria gallica has a smaller range, but can still be found throughout most of the world: Asia, North America and Europe.

* * * 
 
Mycena chlorophos

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mycena chlorophos

Most of the world's glowing mushrooms belong to the Mycena genus. Mycena chlorophos glows brightest under the right conditions: at one day old, around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the caps open, time is limited, and the bioluminescence fades.

* * * 
 
Various bioluminescent Mycenae species of mushrooms

Photo: günther pichler/Shutterstock, Rui Manuel Teles Gomes/Shutterstock and Alan Rockefeller/Wikimedia Commons

More magical Mycenae

Mycena galopus, Mycena pura and Mycena singeri (seen in the above photo, from left) are among the most beautiful, day or night.

* * * 
 
Mycena luxaeterna mushrooms in the light and in the dark

Photo: © Cassius V. Stevani (Instituto de Química – Univ. de São Paulo, Brazil)

Mycena luxaeterna

Dubbed the "eternal light mushroom," Mycena luxaeterna are nondescript in the daylight. But see how their hollow stems glow in the dark! A rain forest fungus, the eternal light mushroom can only be found in Brazil.

* * * 
 
Mycena haematopus mushrooms in the daylight

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mycena haematopus

Also known as the "bleeding fairy helmet," Mycena haematopus is one of the prettiest bioluminescent mushrooms. It can be found throughout Europe and North America. They get their name from the red latex they ooze when they're damaged. What the bleeding fairy helmet lacks in the brightness it makes up for in the beautiful burgundy hue of its delicate caps.

* * * 
Omphalotus illudens (jack o' lantern mushroom) in the daylight

Photo: Rocky Houghtby/flickr

Omphalotus illudens

These "jack-o'lantern" mushrooms are also bioluminescent, adding more credibility to their Halloweenish names. Omphalotus illudens is found in hardwood forests in eastern North America and only its gills glow.

* * * 
 
 
Omphalotus olearius (jack-o-lantern mushroom) glowing in the dark

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Omphalotus olearius

Perhaps the more widely known jack-o'lantern mushroom, Omphalotus olearius is very similar in appearance to edible chanterelles – but as you can imagine, this mushroom is not safe to eat. Omphalotus olearius is the European counterpart to Omphalotus illudens. Both are similar in that they resemble chaterelles in their orange color, their gills glow and they both contain the illudin S toxin. However, in the daylight, their appearances are quite different.

Jack-o'lantern mushrooms get their glow from an enzyme called luciferase – the very same way luminous fireflies get their glow!

* * * 
 
Anna Norris is an associate editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.