There are three good reasons this mushroom has the common name “Jack O’Lantern mushroom”. Angie took this photograph on October 6th, and it is typical for this mushrom to appear in October around Hallowe’en. The second reason is the colour. The third reason, though, is the particularly interesting one. As Tom Volk writes in his Fungus of the Month entry for Omphalotus olearius, the mushroom produces secondary metabolites called luciferases. What’s a luciferase? To quote Wikipedia, luciferases are a generic name for enzymes commonly used in nature for bioluminescence–yes, these mushrooms glow in the dark, though it can be difficult to see the phenomenon. Michael Kuo has written a humourous piece on the glow in the dark conspiracy of Omphalotus illudens.
Changing scientific names do not only apply to green, leafy plants. Much of the literature on the web and in print mentions that this particular fungus should be lumped together with Omphalotus olearius, and not recognized as a distinct species (alluded to in the Tom Volk link above from 1997). While writing this entry, though, I discovered a 2004 paper with molecular evidence that says “No, no, it was correct to separate it out. Don’t lump it in with Omphalotus olearius anymore. It’s actually quite a distant relative.” So, this particular species is back to Omphalotus illudens (ref: Kirchmair, M. et al. 2004. Phylogeny of the genus Omphalotus based on nuclear ribosomal DNA-sequences. Mycologia. 96(6): 1253-1260).
Off-topic, but a reminder that Alex Waterhouse-Hayward’s photography exhibit opens tonight in Vancouver. Details (and sample) are in the entry for Rosa ‘Harwanna’.
Botany / photography resource link: Suggested by UBC Botanical Garden’s (2018 edit: now-retired) David Tarrant, the D.T. Fleming Arboretum, a Hawaiian botanical garden on Maui dedicated to native plants. In particular, David suggests the Pu`u Mahoe Close Up Slide Show, featuring the macro photography of Bob Bangerter. The navigation is a bit strange (it changes with each image), but you can also simply let the slide show run without navigating via the arrows. It will progress to the next photograph after roughly a 7 second delay.