Witnessing the glow of mycelium and mushrooms has sparked a curiosity that has led me down an illuminating path of discovery. If fungi weren’t already pretty niche, bioluminescent mushrooms are a niche within a niche. Knowledge of glow-in-the-dark fungi in New Zealand is relatively new to science and I reckon it’s their time to shine.
Since 2013, only six glow-in-the-dark species have been documented: three Mycena, two Armillaria, and one undescribed species that may be a Hydropus.
This list will not only highlight those species but will also introduce four more (this number is subject to change, and any other species found to ‘bioluminesce’ will be added to this post).
Each species has a unique way of glowing – sometimes the mycelium doesn’t glow, and only the fruit-body does; often just parts of the mushroom, such as the spores, gills, stipes or caps glow.
In addition, a species that exists in one region may glow, yet in a different part of the world, that same species doesn’t emit any light at all (i.e., Panellus stipticus). The changeable behavior of bioluminescent mushrooms adds to the elusivity of tracking them down.
If interested in what to expect, how to detect, and how to photograph bioluminescent fungi, I suggest reading:
Hunting for glow-in-the-dark mushrooms can be a rewarding experience. I’ve always attributed fungi foraying to the likes of real-life Pokemon hunting, whereas the rarest of the rare are the kind that emits light. As of writing this, there is an estimated 110 species around the world known to ‘bioluminesce’.
What species of bioluminescent mushrooms are in New Zealand?
Favolaschia cyathea / austrocyathea & Panellus minimus
Family Mycenaceae is known to contain the most abundant number of bioluminescent species. Favolaschia is a genus in Family Mycenaceae with the name derived from the Latin favus, meaning honeycomb, as the fungi have large pores on the underside. Another similar looking species is Panellus minimus which closely resembles the F. peziziformis found to bioluminescene in Japan.
Update: Thanks to Dr. Jerry Cooper of Landcare Research, F. peziziformis was recorded in error, and is most likely F. cyathea, austrocyathea, or Panellus minimus.
The above photos are of F. peziziformis found in Okinawa, Japan. It is undetermined if some of the smaller Favolaschia species or Panellus minimus emit light in NZ, yet.
Mycena “Crystal Falls”
Given that Mycena species are hard to differentiate without proper microscopy and DNA sequencing, tag names are used as placeholders to indicate where the species was found. Living in Dunedin, Waipori and Crystal Falls is just to the north and it has been a goal of mine to find this species in the wild. I first learned of this mushroom after reading Anna Chinn’s post, A Fungal Fairy-land, Revisited.
M. “Crystal Falls” has been found growing on the ferns Cyathea medullaris, Cyathea smithii, Blechnum sp., on the natives Ripogonum scandens and Metrosideros excelsa, and the exotic Salix fragilis.
American photographer Taylor Lockwood has not only taken photos of M. “Crystal Falls” but has also managed to capture an unknown and unnamed species of “Hobbit mushrooms” which take on the appearance of juvenile Mycena roseoflava. Another species Lockwood was looking for was a kind of Hydropus suspected of glowing.
Mycena ‘Nile River’
Mycena “Nile River” has been found near Lake Brunner in the South Island. The mushroom has been reported to have abundant fruit bodies that radiate, and at times the stems can glow so bright that a dead branch covered in them may be used as a beacon to let others find you.
This species, along with Mycena “Taranaki”, have been reported to glow, although M. Taranaki only emits light in the mycelium and grows in beech broadleaved forest.
Recently found to glow in Stewart Island, M. roseoflava tends to only emit light in the stipe. M. roseoflava can be found all across the country.
More photos of Mycena roseoflava can be viewed here.
Four species within Mycena sect. Calodontes was reported to glow in Peninsular Malaysia, and after DNA sequencing and comparing on GenBank it was found to be Mycena vinacea. I was excited to experiment and see if the mushroom would glow. And indeed, it did! This is the first record of Mycena vinacea glowing in New Zealand.
Interestingly the species grows in soil amongst leaf litter and only glows in the basidiomes (where spores are produced in the gills). The photos above show the faint glow, so if viewing on a mobile device it’s best if the brightness is turned all the way up.
A. limonea was the first photo I saw of bioluminescent mushrooms and what initially piqued my bioluminescent curiosity. Taylor Lockwood was the first to to find and record glowing fruitbodies of “foxfire”— in New Zealand and involved two species: Armillaria novae-zealandia and Armillaria limonea.
It’s interesting to note that only around the cap edges the glow is present, whereas other Armillaria species emit light in other parts of the mushroom.
This fungus feeds on wood and forms its edible mushrooms mostly on different kinds of fallen wood such as tawa and tawai or at the base of dead trees.
Armillaria novae-zelandiae occurs in indigenous forests as a decay fungus of dead trees, stumps, and logs.
Armillaria novae-zelandiae glows differently compared to A. limonea in that A. limonea tends to emit light around the cap edges, while A. novae-zelandiae glow mainly in the stipe and veil.
A 2008 phylogenetic study of Australian and New Zealand populations of A. hinnulea suggests that the species was introduced to New Zealand from Australia on two occasions, once relatively recently and another time much longer ago.
Given that two out of the three species of Armillaria in New Zealand are known to glow, and most Armillaria / wood rot fungi have been shown to glow, it is assumed A. hinnulea bioluminesce, as well.
There have only been a few observations of P. luxfilamentus on iNaturalist up around Auckland, but the species is reported to have bioluminescent mycelium while the fruitbodies are undetermined to glow.
Note: The mycelium of Tricholoma, species within Family Omphalotaceae and Xylaria species are also reported to glow. I do not have photos of these species’ mycelium emitting light in New Zealand yet. These are but a handful of bioluminescent mushrooms reported to glow in New Zealand.
“Armillaria Novae-Zelandiae (Harore).” Science Learning Hub, www.sciencelearn.org.nz/images/3717-armillaria-novae-zelandiae-te-harore.
Bioluminescent Mushrooms of the World, www.taylorlockwood.com/aa_tl_pages/galleries/g_bl.php.
Chew, Audrey L.C., et al. “Four New Bioluminescent Taxa of Mycena sect. Calodontes from Peninsular Malaysia.” Mycologia, vol. 106, no. 5, 2014, pp. 976–988., doi:10.3852/13-274.
Chinn, Anna. “A Fungal Fairy-Land, Revisited.” International Dark-Sky Association, 8 Apr. 2019, www.darksky.org/a-fungal-fairy-land-revisited/.