The Complete Guide to Ghost Mushrooms

The Complete Guide to Ghost Mushrooms

Angelina Dickinson
Angelina Dickinson
October 30, 2023
6 min

The world of fungi is vast and diverse. Whether you’re learning about a mushroom’s unique growing cycle, medicinal benefits, or psychedelic properties, it’s hard not to be utterly fascinated by what otherwise appear to be humble mushrooms.

But what about the shrooms that stand out the ones with an otherworldly glow?

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to ghost mushrooms. You’ll learn all about what these mushrooms look like (and why), where to find them, whether or not they’re safe to consume, and much more. Let’s dive in!

What are ghost mushrooms?

Ghost mushrooms (omphalotus nidiformis or o. nidiformis) also go by the common names glow fungus, ghost fungus, and the jack o’lantern mushroom. These names are all clues about these mystical mushrooms, as ghost mushrooms are ‌bioluminescent fungus. Only 65 species in the entire mushroom kingdom (so far) are known to be luminescent.

These mushrooms produce their own light, and the emission of this light is always happening, although we may not always see it (1). And similar to other glowing things we see in nature, like fireflies, glow worms, and marine bioluminescence, there’s a specific chemical reaction behind ghost mushrooms’ natural luminosity (more on this in a moment).

The taxonomy for ghost mushrooms is as follows: 

  • Kingdom: Fungi
  • Phylum: Basidiomycetes
  • Class: Agaricomycetes
  • Order: Agaricales
  • Family: Omphalotaceae
  • Genus: Omphalotus
  • Species: O. nidiformis

Psst: Not all glowing mushrooms are the same. Some species only emit light from their gills while others will have glowing stems. Sometimes, none of the fruiting body will glow but the mycelium will (1).

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What do ghost mushrooms look like?

Ghost mushrooms look a lot like oyster mushrooms (pleurotus ostreatus). And like oyster mushrooms, their fruit bodies have fan-shaped (or even cup-like) caps that can grow up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) across.

During the day, these glowing mushrooms vary in color, including creamy white with black, brown, orange, and even purple shading (2). It’s after the sunsets that this luminescent fungus really transforms.

This otherworldly glow used to be a mystery to scientists, but they unlocked an understanding of this natural phenomenon’s functions. 

Bioluminescent mushrooms, like ghost mushrooms, use luciferin, the same compound that makes other plants and animals glow, to illuminate themselves. And unlike phosphorus, which produces its glow after absorbing energy from an external source, these shrooms glow because of a chemical reaction inside the fungi.

When luciferase encounters oxygen and just the right enzyme, magic happens, and ghost mushrooms become lit from within (3). 

Psst: Even though many photographs depict ghost mushrooms as having a greenish glow, this is actually the result of a long exposure. When you see ghost mushrooms in real life, their luminosity will look more white.

Where do ghost mushrooms grow?

Ghost mushrooms on the ground

These spooky-looking mushrooms grow on pine stumps, dead wood, and decaying and diseased wood. You can also see them growing at the base of trees in eucalyptus forests. Ghost mushrooms are found in diverse environments, most often in Southern Australia and Tasmania.

Expect to see ghost mushrooms in South Western Australia and along the southern coastline, near the apex of the Eyre Peninsula and the state of Queensland (2).

Psst: These fungi down under don’t lend themselves to mushroom cultivation, although it’s not impossible. There are several factors to consider, such as mushroom cultures (or spawn), substrate and growing medium, light and dark cycles, and other environmental conditions.

Historical and traditional use of ghost mushrooms

According to the Atlas of Living Australia, an online resource with information on Australian animals, fungi, and plants, the ghost mushroom was first documented scientifically in 1844. Like many other mushrooms, ghost mushrooms have had a winding taxonomic history, leading to their current name bestowed upon them by American mycologist Orson K. Miller Jr. (O.K.Mill) in 1994 (2).

Like other cultures worldwide, knowledge of the Aboriginal people has survived through oral histories relayed across the generations; it was only in the 19th century that this sacred wisdom became part of the written record. And while there isn’t always enough information to make a concrete mushroom identification, there is information suggesting that ghost mushrooms may have held a place of importance among Aboriginal people.

One of the early settlers in Western Australia recounted stories about a “large, luminous mushroom, and reported that several Aboriginal people when they saw it, cried out Chinga!, their name for spirit, and seemed much afraid of it.” This could likely be a warning about ghost mushrooms, although we can’t say that definitively (4).

Health benefits of ghost mushrooms

Ghost mushrooms are poisonous! 

Although studies demonstrate how ethanol, cold, and hot water extracts from omphalotus nidiformis “have significant cytotoxic activity toward a variety of cancer cell lines,” you should not eat glowing mushrooms.

Ghost mushrooms are also interesting as methanol extracts contain phenolic compounds that behave as anti-inflammatories and have antitumor and antimicrobial properties. Several studies support the power of phenols to scavenge free radicals, and ghost mushrooms appear to have a high antioxidant content (5).

Still, consuming ghost mushrooms can cause severe digestive upset and, in some instances, could be deadly. Any measurable health benefits of ghost mushrooms will have to wait until they can be extracted so people can safely consume them.

Ethically wildcrafting ghost mushrooms

Glow in the dark mushrooms

Even though ghost mushrooms aren’t safe for consumption, that doesn’t mean you can’t safely wildcraft other varieties of mushrooms. You may want to finish a day of gathering mushrooms by simply admiring the mystical luminescence of ghost mushrooms.

While it may seem as if foraging and wildcrafting are synonyms for each other, the reality is both employ different strategies and approaches. 

Foraging is generally used as a catch-all term for gathering a resource grown in the wild, while ethical wildcrafting refers to harvesting local resources for medicinal needs. Wildcrafting involves a more mindful approach to collecting wild mushrooms, herbs, berries, and other plants—it’s an approach that honors local ecosystems.

Spend time familiarizing yourself with the local species in your area. You’ll want to know what could be endangered or threatened, as well as whether or not there are any poisonous look-alikes you need to be aware of. Harvesting the wrong mushroom can have serious consequences, so we strongly suggest you consult a professional.

Another aspect of wildcrafting involves considering the local environment by gathering only what you need. We aren’t the only ones who enjoy fungi. Birds, deer, and insects all rely on mushrooms to one extent or another. Depleting a natural resource can throw the ecology of a local area out of balance. To prevent this, consider making a spore print of your mushrooms; you may be able to use it to grow your own mushrooms at home.

Lastly, educate yourself on the best practices for harvesting your chosen mushroom; you may need different tools for different mushrooms. A knife or hatchet can help harvest chaga mushrooms, for instance. In contrast, other mushrooms require being gently twisted from the soil or carefully trimmed at their base.

Most of the time, even if it may seem like we’re seeing the whole mushroom, we really aren’t. The part we harvest and enjoy is the fruiting body and only part of a mushroom’s anatomy. Just beneath the surface is the mycelium, an underground network of delicate filaments called hyphae. Often called the “wood wide web,” this mycelial network allows mushrooms to communicate changes in their local environment. Things like changing water levels and nearby predators are all information that can travel along these channels.

Even if you won’t be harvesting ghost mushrooms any time soon, knowing how to mindfully care for and support your local ecosystems is essential.

How can you enjoy ghost mushrooms?

Since ghost mushrooms are inedible, the best way to enjoy them is to see them in person. If you’re not stumbling across them on an evening walk, a visit to Ghost Mushroom Lane may be in order.

Forestry SA (South Australia) offers a seasonal nature tour each May and June where you can experience seeing these Australian fungi in person near Mount Gambier. This South Australian landmark and National park is nearly 300 miles away from Adelaide.

Fungimap, maps the distribution of fungal species across Australia, making them an excellent resource for learning more about where you can find ghost mushrooms.

No need for a trip to Southern Australia if you’re out of the area. Other species similar to ghost mushrooms may already be in your local area, so this mushroom with an eerie glow may be much closer than you think!

Ghost mushrooms: Nature’s luminous magic in action

The mushroom kingdom is fascinating and brimming with fungi of all kinds. And few are as hauntingly beautiful and eerie as ghost mushrooms. These luminous wonders of nature are a unique and welcome find during a walk in nature. 

For more mushroom happenings, including news and breakthroughs on medicinal and psychedelic mushrooms, be sure to keep up with us on shroomer.


  1. National Science Foundation. “A Thousand Points of Light: Bioluminescent Fungi.” NSF - National Science Foundation, July 26, 2022. https://new.nsf.gov/news/thousand-points-light-bioluminescent-fungi
  2. Australia, Atlas of Living. “Species: Omphalotus Nidiformis,” n.d. https://bie.ala.org.au/species/https://id.biodiversity.org.au/node/fungi/60094367
  3. Blakemore, Erin. “The Secret Behind Bioluminescent Mushrooms’ Magic Glow.” Smithsonian Magazine, April 27, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/heres-secret-behind-bioluminescent-mushrooms-magic-glow-180963065/
  4. Lepp, Heino. “Aboriginal Use of Fungi.” Australian National Botanic Gardens: Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, January 23, 2013. Accessed July 7, 2023. https://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/aboriginal.html
  5. “Wayback Machine,” n.d. https://web.archive.org/web/20121019202605/http://apjtb.com/zz/2012s1/76.pdf

Fact Checked: Mar Yvette


Angelina Dickinson

Angelina Dickinson

Content Writer

Table Of Contents

What are ghost mushrooms?
What do ghost mushrooms look like?
Where do ghost mushrooms grow?
Historical and traditional use of ghost mushrooms
Health benefits of ghost mushrooms
Ethically wildcrafting ghost mushrooms
How can you enjoy ghost mushrooms?
Ghost mushrooms: Nature's luminous magic in action

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