Bioluminescent Fungi: 12 Mushrooms That Glow in the Dark

mushrooms that glow in the dark illustration

Treehugger / Julie Bang 

Out of this world

Bioluminescent mushroom Panellus stipticus begins to glow at night
Some mushrooms light up the night ground with their glow-in-the-dark ability. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Panellus stipticus

Panellus Stipticus lit up at night on a tree branch
Panellus stipticus is a bioluminescent tree decoration. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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

Panellus pusillus growing along a tree limb
Imagine these all lit up, like Christmas tree lights. (Photo: Alison Harrington/Flickr)

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

Armillaria mellea during the day
Armillaria mellea are among the most prevalent of bioluminescent mushrooms. (Photo: Dan Molter at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images/Wikimedia Commons)

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

Armillaria gallica Marxm. & Romagn
These 'honey mushrooms' even look delicious at night. (Photo: Dan Molter at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images/Wikimedia Commons)

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, including Asia, North America and Europe.

Mycena chlorophos

Mycena chlorophos glowing at night
These mushrooms' lives as nature's glow sticks are short-lived. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

More magical Mycenae

Collage of three mycena species
Some mushrooms are pretty, day or night. (Photo: günther pichler/Shutterstock, Rui Manuel Teles Gomes/Shutterstock and Alan Rockefeller/Wikimedia Commons)

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

Mycena luxaeterna

Mycena luxaeterna not glowing and glowing
You wouldn't even suspect these little mushrooms of glowing in the dark. (Photo: © Cassius V. Stevani)

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

Mycena haematopus
These mushrooms may not be super-bright, but they're still beautiful. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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

Omphalotus illudens
Halloween just wouldn't be Halloween without glowing mushrooms. (Photo: Rocky Houghtby/Flickr)

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

Omphalotus olearius
They look like chanterelles, but they're not!. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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 chanterelles 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!