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?
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.
There have only been a handful of records in NZ for this species, and I’ve put this species at the top of the list because of its rarity.
Favolaschia peziziformis is a Japanese palm-inhabiting species reported and collected in the Kahurangi / Nelson region of the South Island and around the Auckland Region in the north.
Other look-a-like species are F. cyatheae and an even smaller species F. austrocyatheae. These are still undetermined as to whether or not they emit light.
An interesting observation made in Malaysia is that bioluminescent Favolaschia species tend to glow brighter as they die and deliquesce as opposed to glowing brighter the younger they are.
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.
Mycena sect. Calodontes
Mycena sect. Calodontes was reported to glow in Malaysia. Knowing this, I was excited to see if the species here would glow as well. And indeed, it did! This is the first record of Mycena sect. Calodontes 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. 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 all Armillaria / wood rot fungi have been shown to glow, it is assumed A. hinnulea glows, 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 Flammulina velutipes, Tricholoma, species within Family Omphalotaceae and Xylaria species are reported to glow as well. I do not have photos of these species’ mycelium emitting light in New Zealand yet. These are but a handful of the species 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/.
“Favolaschia Peziziformis (Berk. & M.A.Curtis) Kuntze.” GBIF, www.gbif.org/species/2527423.