Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are aptly named — they are bright orange and appear in the fall, much like Jack-o’-lanterns of the squash variety. However, these Jack-o’-lanterns can be found in large clusters at the base of trees, on stumps, or on buried wood. They’re also said to be bioluminescent — the gills of fresh specimens may sometimes give off a faint greenish glow at night or in a darkened room.
Jack-o’-lantern mushrooms are often mistaken for the edible chanterelle. Look beneath the Jack-o’-lantern mushroom to see its characteristic gill arrangement. This is one way to avoid confusing them with chanterelles, which are smooth underneath. Eating Jack-o’- lantern mushrooms will make you very sick for a few days.
This species exists most of the time as a network of fungal cells (mycelium) within rotting logs, branches, or tree roots. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops the above-ground cluster of mushrooms, which are reproductive structures. Spores are produced in the gills and released to begin new mycelia elsewhere. The mycelium of a mushroom can live for decades.
Fungi are vitally important for a healthy ecosystem. This fungus feeds on dead hardwood trees such as oaks, decomposing their fallen logs and branches and buried roots. This cleans the forest and helps nutrients cycle back into the soil.
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