Fungi Flashlights for Fairies (Bioluminescent Fungi)

By Shelby Burnham

Aristotle (384-322) reported a mysterious light, distinct from fire, emanating light from decaying wood. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) also mentioned feasting on a glowing, sweet fungus found on trees in France (Kimbrough, L). Glow in the dark mushrooms are unique to the fungal kingdom for their mysterious “cold light”; bioluminescent fungi will continue to intrigue generations to come.

The most common reports about bioluminescence are “glowing wood” in forests at night. The most abundant and diverse bioluminescence are found in tropical rain forests, they are typically small and grow on leaf litter or rotting wood (Herring, P). Some countries are great places to hunt for bioluminescent fungi, these countries include: Brazil, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia and Puerto Rico (Pescovitz, D). In these countries, scientists look not up at the stars but down to see a starry filled ground. The temperate forests in North America also have bioluminescent fungi. Two examples of bioluminescent fungi that grow in temperate forests of North American are: Omphaloutus olearius (the jack-o-lantern mushroom), and Armillaria mellea (the honey mushroom). O. olearius caps and gills glow in the dark but only the mycelium of the A. mellea glows in the dark (Kimbrough, L). All bioluminescent fungi emit light 24 hours a day but are only luminescent at night, preferably on a new moon night (Herring, P).

Photo by: National Geographic / Darlyne A. Murawski

Scientists suggest that mushrooms illuminate different organs for different reasons. Some evidence shows that certain nocturnal insects and mammals are attracted to the glowing light and therefore assist the fungi in spore dispersal. There is controversy over the idea that illuminating is more effective. Most bioluminescent species are found in the water, they use their luminescent tricks for communication, hunting and camouflage but their molecular structure is very different than a mushroom (Untamed Science). In the article called “Freaky Fungi Glow in the Dark” from the University of Sao Paulo, the authors state that there are 85,000 described species in the Fungi Kingdom, and only 65 species in the ent

ire Fungi Kingdom are known to be luminescent. All of the 65 luminescent fungi species are mushrooms that have thin-walled, white spores, and all are white rot fungi capable of digesting both cellulose and lignin in plant debris. All luminescent fungi are in the Basidiomycota phylum, and 70% of them are Mycenas. At the San Francisco State University, professor and avid mycologist Dr. Dennis Desjardin has discovered over 200 new species of fungi, and nearly 1/4 of all the luminescent fungi (Desjardin, D).

How does bioluminescence work? Bioluminescence are the result of a molecule called luciferin coming in contact with water and oxygen. When water and oxygen are prese

nt, the molecule luciferin is activated and thus becomes a luciferase enzyme. This reaction produces energy, and this energy excites the electrons in the luciferin molecule (Hastings, J). This means, the electrons get a little more energy than normal. When the molecules return to their normal state the extra energy gets converted into light. All the energy that bioluminescent mushrooms produces get turned into light, this light is more efficient than a flashlig

ht because they do not produce heat, just pure light. This is where they get their nickname from “Cold Light Mushrooms” (Untamed Science).

A quote from Dr. Dennis Desjardin at the San Francisco University: “There are a few species in temperate habitats that are luminescent, particularly Omphalotus species (jack-o-lantern mushrooms), but they are not very spectacular and it requires patience (sitting for a long time in the dark to let your eyes adjust). The tropics are the best place to see them. Brazil, Southeast Asia and Australia are particularly good places with a variety of luminescent mushroom species. Pick a new moon night during the rainy season, go out at night when it is completely dark, and roam in the forest looking for points of yellowish green light. Donʼt forget, however, that you cannot see a thing in the pitch dark, so youʼll walk into trees, streams, etc, and that there are lots of creatures that are nocturnal, like poisonous snakes, jaguars, necrotic spiders, etc. that need to be avoided! Itʼs lots of fun!” (Kimbrough, L).

This is a video called the “Science of Glowing Mushrooms”


Denk, J. (n.d.). Fire fox mushroom (honey mushroom, armillaria mellea). Retrieved from http://

Desjardin, D. E. (2008). Freaky fungi glow in the dark. LiveScience & National Science Foundation,

Hastings, J. W. (1996). Chemistries and colors of bioluminescent reactions. Elsevier Science,

Herring, P. J. (1994). Luminous fungi. Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, Deacon Laboratory, Brook Road, Wormley, 8(4), 18.

Kimbrough, L. (2013). Why bioluminescent fungi glow in the dark.

Murawski, D. A. (n.d.). Jack-o-lantern mushrooms (omphalotus olearius) glowing green at night.. Retrieved from mushrooms-omphalotus-olearius-glowing-green-at-night

Pescovit, D. (2009). Glow-in-the-dark mushrooms.

Science of Glowing Mushrooms [Web Video]. Retrieved from UntamedScience?feature=watch

Ganoderma applanatum: The Artist’s Conk

By Alissa Overson

Fungus is a common part of our everyday life, whether or not we realize it. From the food in our kitchens, to the mushrooms in our yards, fungus is everywhere. There are about 100,000 species of described fungi, but recent estimates say that there are over 5 million species waiting to be described (Blackwell 2011)! Of those 100,000 known species of fungi, about 17,000 are mushrooms (Blackwell).

Many mushrooms have amazing qualities about them. One particularly interesting mushroom is the polypore Ganoderma applanatum, commonly known as the artist’s conk. Upon first glance, this mushroom might not look like much. It grows out of fallen logs or wounds in trees and forms a shelf-like knob. The top of the cap is pale brown with a white margin that leads into the white underside. Before touched, the pore surface (the underside of the mushroom) is a perfect white color (see fig. 1). After it is touched, the mushroom “bruises” and turns dark brown very quickly, making it easy to draw on! Artists use this mushroom as a canvas to etch beautiful illustrations on (see fig. 2). David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified, says that Ganoderma applanatum “makes an excellent medium for etching, or better yet, leaving cryptic messages in the woods”. Because Ganoderma applanatum is a perennial mushroom, a message left on this mushroom might be there for years to come!


Figure 1. Ganoderma applanatum growing our of a fallen hardwood log

Ganoderma applanatum comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The mushroom pictured in Figure 1 was found near my home in Hoodsport, Washington, and is about 8 inches long. The pore surface is very flat, and I plan on making a drawing on it eventually. For now, I am letting it stay in the woods because once picked, there is a limited amount of time to draw on it before it will no longer bruise. This is another amazing feature of the fungus. Drawing on a fresh specimen and then drying it will naturally preserve your masterpiece. While this specimen is fairly small, artist’s conk can grow up to 20 inches! Although it is most commonly used as a canvas, the use of Ganoderma applanatum does not stop with artwork.

Etched ganoderma
Fig. 2. Drawing done on G. applanatum by artist Corey Corcoran. Click here to see more!

Ganoderma applanatum is also used for its medicinal properties. The genus Ganoderma is very important to China, which uses many different kinds of these mushrooms in medicine (Jong 1992). While it cannot be directly eaten because it it is too hard, the woody fruiting body can be boiled down into a tea and is used for its antiinflammatory, antitumor, and antibacterial properties. It is also said to help the respiratory system (Stamets 1999). The compounds found in many Ganoderma mushrooms have actually been studied and shown to greatly inhibit tumor growth in mice (Usui et al 1983). This is not just a home remedy!

Many polypores found in the Pacific Northwest are medicinal, and this is just one example. Our forests contain all kinds of fungi, and they can be used in many ways. I think that it is important to keep learning about fungi and how they can be used. Next time you are walking in the woods, keep an eye out for these inconspicuous mushrooms. Maybe you can leave a friendly message for the next hiker, draw a picture, or even harvest the mushroom to make some medicinal tea.
Works Cited
Arora, D. (1986). Mushrooms Demystified. (2 ed., pp. 576577). New York: Ten Speed Press.

Blackwell, M. (2011). The Fungi: 1, 2, 3 .. 5.1 million species? American Journal of Botany, 98(3), 426438.

Jong, S. C., Brimingham, J. M. (1992). Medicinal Benefits of the Mushroom Ganoderma. Advances in Applied Microbiology, 73, 108110.

Stamets, P., & Wu Yao , C. (1999). MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms.

Usui, T., Iwasaki, Y., Mizuno, T., Tanaka, M., Shinkai, K., & Arakawa, M. (1983). Isolation and haracterization of antitumor active β glucans from the fruit bodies of Ganoderma applanatum. Carbohydrate Research, 115, 273280.

Healthful, helpful Hericium

Photo by Diane Cavallero (

By Brian Matson

The genus Hericium has several conspicuous species in the forests of North America, often hanging high up in the branches just out of reach or on the ground on dead logs. These saprophytic (wood-eating) mushrooms look unlike any other Basidiomycetes that you might see, lacking the cap and gill features so common to this phylum.  What they are missing in commonality they make up for in beauty. Often weighing several pounds with an untarnished creamy white coloration make these fungi a treat worth looking for. Not only are they unique in appearance they are edible and choice, having a unique taste, they also show promising health benefits such as tumor reduction and stimulating the production of nerve growth factor (“Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health,” n.d.).

There are four species of Hericium present in North America. Hericium erinaceus and Hericium abietis can be found in our Pacific Northwest and as far south as California on conifer wood. Hericium coralloides which is wide spread and grows on conifers , and Hericium americanum  which can be found in the Great Plains growing on hardwoods. All four of these species have stalactite-appearing teeth that hang off off the fruiting body. They are an easy fungus to identify for beginner mycologists because there are no poisonous look-a-likes in North America. David Arora describes these fungi as having a similar flavor and texture to fish or lobster. It can be sautéed, marinated, grilled, or prepared in almost any fashion, making it a very flexible mushroom for cooking. My preferred method is to dry sauté the mushroom until the liquid has evaporated off, then adding 1-2 tbsp of avocado oil, frying until browned, and then sprinkling on a little salt.  Patience is the key while cooking, because it often takes longer than you will want to wait. The wait is worth the euphoria trying this delicacy!
Hericium has been used as a traditional medicine in China and Japan for many years; but its medicinal uses are still being explored in western medicine (“Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health,” n.d.) .  The fungi in the genus Hericium all contain compounds called erinacines.  Erinacines have shown the ability to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor in animal trials (“Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health,” n.d.) , and show much potential in the treatment of debilitating diseases that affect nerve health or function.  In a double-blind placebo controlled study that took place in Japan in 2008, participants whose ages ranged from 50-80 were given orally powdered Hericium erinaceus and their cognitive function was monitored.  All 14 test subjects given the powdered Hericium erinaceus showed improved cognitive function when compared to 5 of the 15 placebo participants (Mori, Inatomi, Ouchi, Azumi, & Tuchida, 2009) .  The studies show promise in the effectiveness of Hericium in treatment of neurological diseases.  More studies are being done testing the effectiveness as a tumor suppressant, and while there has been less testing done in this area the few tests there have been show promise.

Works Cited
Plants & Fungi: Hericium erinaceus (bearded tooth) – Species profile from Kew. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

Hericium – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

The Genus Hericium (MushroomExpert.Com). (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake ( Hericium erinaceus ) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 23(3), 367–372. doi:10.1002/ptr.2634

Yurchenco, J. A., & Warren, G. H. (1961). A Laboratory Procedure for the Cultivation and Fructification of Species of Hericium. Mycologia, 53(6), 566–574. doi:10.2307/3756458