Fun Fungi: World’s Brightest Glow-in-the-Dark Mushroom

One of the world’s brightest glow-in-the-dark mushrooms was first spotted in Brazil in 1840, when an English botanist named George Gardner spotted a group of children playing with a glowing object in the streets. It was virtually forgotten for 170 years, until a pair of primatologists studying monkeys saw a strange glowing object at the base of a few palm trees.

The mushroom, known as Neonothopanus gardneri, never went anywhere. In fact, Brazilian locals knew it was there all along. Scientists just didn’t notice. The two primatologists, Patricia Izar and Dorothy Fragazi, brought a few specimens home with them to be identified and confirmed that it was the same species that Gardner first discovered.

There are about 65 known species of bioluminescent mushrooms, with N. gardneri simply being among the brightest. Many of these mushrooms don’t glow brightly enough for their luminescence to be visible to the human eye – rather, the glowing effect shows up after a long exposure when taking a photograph. The variety pictured above, Panella stypticus, is another particularly bright species.

Scientists believe the ability to glow in the dark may have developed to help mushrooms disperse spores by attracting nocturnal animals. The mushrooms may produce light the same way a firefly does, with a mixture of chemicals that interact with oxygen and water.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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