Luminescent mushrooms (bioluminescent mushrooms) glow in the dark. Here you can find everything about the different species, breeding, and cultivation of these bizarre mushrooms.
Mushrooms that glow in the dark?
For many, that sounds like a dream or fairytale world. However, the immense variety of mushroom species (estimates are around 100,000) also contains more than 70 species that begin to glow at night. The technical term for glow in the dark is bioluminescence. But what is that exactly?
What is bioluminescence, and how does it work?
A living organism’s capacity to create and emit light, or send it out, is known as bioluminescence. This is made possible by chemical processes that occur within the body. With the aid of an enzyme (luciferase), a luminous molecule (luciferin) is oxidized to oxyluciferin (consumption of oxygen and energy).
When oxiluciferin breaks down, energy is released, which is transformed into the light of a specific wavelength (max 530 nm) with minor loss. We see the light as green because of the wavelength.
Why do the mushrooms glow?
Nothing happens in nature without reason. The extraordinary appearance of the mushrooms also has a biological function. The emitted green light is visible to insects and attracts them.
Similar to the “bees and flowers” principle, the insects land on the mushrooms and, as they fly, transport spores that have stuck to them. Because of their conspicuous glow, the mushrooms have advantages in terms of reproduction and distribution.
Bioluminescent species: a small selection
The variety of bioluminescent mushrooms (syn. Luminous mushrooms) is very large. In the following sections, we will go into more detail on four representatives that occur in our latitudes.
The selected species belong to the mushrooms / “cap mushrooms” (Basidiomycota).
Honey fungus (Armillaria mellea)
The honey fungus predominantly colonizes hardwood. It occurs mainly outside of closed forests. The species is widespread in North America, Europe and Germany, and is relatively common everywhere. The fungus forms a whitish fan mycelium under the bark, which glows in the dark under certain weather conditions.
The fruiting bodies appear mainly in late summer and autumn, from June to November. They are edible but not really enjoyable in terms of taste. The term mycelium, which was just mentioned and will appear further in the article, stands for the network of fungal cells (also called hyphae) that are strung together in a thread-like manner and usually grow underground.
Curious: cultures of this kind were used in the first war submarines at the end of the 19th century as lighting for measuring devices and clocks.
Bitter Oysterling mushroom (Panellus stipticus)
Old trunks, stumps, and branches lying around are colonized by oaks and red beeches, and other hardwoods. This luminous representative is rarely found on softwood. The bitter dwarf ball can be found in Australia, Pakistan, North Asia, North America, North Africa, the Canary Islands, and throughout Europe.
In Scandinavia, its distribution area extends up to the 65th parallel. The species occurs in almost all forest types, parks, gardens, rows of trees, and also on solitary trees. Here mycelium and fruiting bodies glow in the dark. The fruiting bodies appear all year round. They are not poisonous but inedible and therefore unsuitable as edible mushrooms.
However, many species do not thrive in the Central European climate. They prefer warmer, more humid climates. This includes, for example:
Jack-o’-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius)
The heat-loving dark olive tree funnel is widespread in the Mediterranean area; it is very seldom to be found in Central Europe. The preferred habitat of this luminous representative is deciduous trees. It usually grows in tufts on olive trees, sometimes also on oaks or sweet chestnuts.
This bioluminescent mushroom appears from July to October and is poisonous, although not fatal. In this species, the mycelium and the lamellae glow.
“Flor de coco” (coconut flower) (Neonothopanus gardneri)
This bioluminescent mushroom is one of the most luminous and is (as the name suggests) mainly found in Brazilian coconut forests. Here it grows at the foot of the coconut palms. Unfortunately, you cannot buy spores or mycelium to grow this magnificent species at home.
How to grow bioluminescent mushrooms
A couple of the species described are freely available and can be easily grown at home, or to stick with the correct choice of words: they can be grown.
If you want to grow glowing mushrooms at home, you can either fall back on spores of the desired type or mycelium. The use of mycelium is particularly recommended for beginners but also experienced mushroom lovers.
Spores are very susceptible to contamination – therefore, you must carry out the work in a sterile manner. However, this isn’t easy to do in most households.
Mycelium is available in various forms on the Internet or in special shops. There are mycelium syringes, inoculation dowels, wooden trunks, pure cultures in Petri dishes, and ready-made kits/glass cultures. Inoculation dowels have proven to be particularly insensitive and versatile.
Inoculation dowels are small wooden dowels with the mycelium growing through them. For example, they can be used for growing on logs or in mason jars. The cultivation of wooden trunks is particularly suitable for species whose fruiting bodies glow. Species with glowing mycelium do particularly well in mason jars.
Growing bioluminescent mushrooms on tree trunks
In addition to the inoculation dowels, only a log is required. Deadwood is best. Depending on the type, it should be noted which types of wood are preferred as a substrate. Appropriate holes are drilled in the trunk with a commercially available drill, and the inoculation dowels are inserted, if necessary, with the aid of a hammer.
The holes can then be sealed with wax, foil, or tape. Then it is time to wait. With climate-friendly species such as Armillaria mellea, old tree stumps can be inoculated in the garden. At night, your garden is transformed into a shimmering wonderland. Panellus stipticus makes streaky roots particularly attractive as an eye-catcher in terrariums.
Grow glowing mushrooms in mason jars
Growing in a mason jar is a bit more complicated compared to the tree trunk method. But the effort is rewarded.
- Substrate container (mason jar)
- Substrate and raw materials (for approx. 2 kg wood substrate):
- Wood chips 320 g
- Wheat Bran 170 g
- Sawdust 650 g
- Plaster of Paris 25 g
- Water 820 g
The wood chips are completely covered with cold water and soaked overnight. The wood chips are then allowed to drain over a sieve for 15 minutes. Here, too, you must pay attention to ensure that a suitable type of wood is used as the substrate.
Wheat bran, sawdust, and gypsum are now weighed, mixed, and added to the damp wood chips. Finally, add the specified amount of water, and everything is mixed properly. The substrate is now poured into the previously thoroughly cleaned mason jars.
The jars are sealed and placed in a pressure cooker. This is filled with so much water that the glasses are half covered. The whole thing is boiled for at least an hour to sterilize the substrate.
When the glasses with the substrate have cooled down (room temperature), one or more inoculation dowels can be added. Then the jar is closed again. It takes around 3 to 6 weeks for the whole thing to grow through nicely. The more inoculation anchors are used, the faster it goes.
Such shining glasses are very special gifts for friends or acquaintances. A glass with the mycelium of a species like Panellus stipticus arouses great astonishment, especially in children, and is a beautiful and natural alternative to the night light in the children’s room. In this form, Panellus stipticus lights up for approx—3 to 6 months.
Tip: If the inoculation dowels get into the jar, there is a risk of contamination. Therefore, you should work in the cleanest possible place. The area below an extractor hood is best suited for this. To do this, set the trigger to full power, disinfect your hands, open the lid, and as quickly as possible into the glass with the dowels.
Storage of the mycelium
The mycelium and the spores can be stored at cool temperatures and in the dark, for example, in the refrigerator. Spores can thus retain their ability to germinate for months. The mycelium can be stored for several weeks to months, depending on how much substrate and oxygen are available.
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