Identifying Jack O’ Lantern Mushrooms

Being able to identify Jack O’ Lantern mushrooms is an essential skill for mushroom foragers!

This is especially useful when hunting for chanterelles, or other orange mushrooms, such as chicken of the woods.

In this article, I’m sharing photos and tips to help you better tell the difference between toxic Jack O’ Lanterns (Omphalotus illudens), and desirable lookalikes such as chanterelle mushrooms.

jack o lantern mushrooms grow in clusters
Since Jack O’ Lantern Mushrooms are toxic and can make you sick, you must know what they look like when you’re out hunting for chanterelles and other orange colored mushrooms.
jacks grow from wood
Growing in a cluster, directly from wood, orange color, and true gills = these are jacks!

Where Jack O’ Lantern Mushrooms Grow

These mushrooms are saprobic; they live on dead or decaying wood.

You’ll find them growing in clusters from dead hardwood tree stumps or snags. This could be anywhere from the middle of a mature forest, or at the edge of your suburban backyard. Wherever there are hardwood trees around, a jack-o-lantern mushroom can grow.

a single jack o lantern mushroom
A single jack, growing just a little farther away from the cluster of mushrooms shown in the photo above this one. You can’t tell at first look, but it’s attached to a root.

Beware of buried wood!

Sometimes that decaying wood is buried root, so if you’re unsure if you have a jack-o-lantern (also called “jacks”), be sure to use a nearby stick or rock to dig underneath the mushroom and check if it’s attached to a tree root.

In this photo below, the jack looks like it’s growing all by itself and right out of the ground, but when I dug into the earth a bit, I could feel a clearly defined tree root that the mushroom was growing from.

jack growing from a tree root
Using my fingers, I could feel a very firm tree root underneath this mushroom.

Is it poisonous to touch Jack o’ lantern mushrooms?

You have to actually eat jacks in order for them to make you sick.

It’s okay to pick them up and handle them to get a good look, you won’t get poisoned through your skin if you touch one.

Jack o’ lantern mushrooms help serve an important role in the ecosystem, so if you find some, it’s usually best to just leave them in place and let them do their thing. However, if there’s any concern your puppy or toddler would eat one, then definitely remove from areas that your puppies or toddlers frequent.

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are a chanterelle lookalike
An overhead view of these toxic mushrooms.

Identifying Features

Once you find some actual Jack o’ Lanterns in the woods, then you’re unlikely to ever mix them up again. However, until that time – here are some features to look for.

Color of the Cap

Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are distinctly orange; they’re often described as pumpkin colored. (Which very likely explains their name!)

Omphalotus illudens
Omphalotus illudens

Inside Stem

An important feature to check is the stem.

The outside of the stem should be about the same orange color as the cap, and if you split the stem open, the flesh inside is also orange.

orange stem of a jack o lantern mushroom
Inside view of a Jack O’ Lantern Mushroom stem.

(In contrast, chanterelle stems are white inside and look like string cheese when you tear them open.)

The stems also tend to taper or curve to the base. And you’ll usually see more than one jack growing together in a big cluster or grouping.

another view of the orange gills
Another view of the underside of the jack o lantern mushroom.


The thin gills are the same orange color as the rest of the mushroom.

underview of jacks
Underside view of jack-o-lantern gills.

You can double check if your mushroom has gills by cutting a crosspiece from the cap and observing it.

Here’s a photo of a bite taken out of jack-o-lantern mushroom. (Not by a human! Some critters can eat these just fine.)

a closer view of the sharp gills
A cross cut section of mushroom can help you determine if it has gills or not.

Notice the sharp lines of the gills are even more evident this way.

Chanterelles do not have gills or sharp lines like this. See the comparison section below.

Spore Print

The spore print is off-white. To make a spore print, cut the stem from a cap and lay it gill side down on a piece of aluminum foil.

Place a glass or bowl over the mushroom and keep it undisturbed all night. The next morning, carefully remove the glass/bowl and the mushroom cap and check out your lovely spore print!

spore print of jackolantern
Here’s a spore print I made of jack-o-lantern mushroom.

Time of Year to Find Jacks

Jacks are most often found from mid-summer to late fall, but they can appear earlier in the year as well.

I find them mostly in August, September, and October around where we live.

growing from roots and tree stumps
The main cluster of jack o lanterns are beside a tree stump, while there’s a small one growing nearby, from a buried tree root. Always double check for this situation when hunting chanterelles and other orange mushrooms.

Do Jack O’ Lanterns REALLY Glow in the Dark??

It’s often said that Jacks glow in the dark.

However, it’s not a super bright thing like the glow in the dark stars your mom stuck on your ceiling when you were a kid, or your favorite glow in the dark stickers. Putting jack-o-lantern mushrooms under a bright light for a while isn’t going to make them extra glowy.

Instead, you have to take a fresh sample into the darkest room in your house. Then wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually, your eyes will adjust and you *might* see a very dim, greenish glow!

I’ve done this a few times and have seen the ultra pale glow only once after a very long time of waiting. After reading Mushroom Expert’s opinion on the glow, now I’m not even sure I saw what I saw, or if my eyes played tricks on me!

If you give it a try, let me know – did you see a glow, or not?

How to Tell Chanterelles and Jack o’ Lanterns Apart

First, if you haven’t done so, go read my whole article about Foraging Chanterelle Mushrooms.

That article will give you the best in-depth information on the differences.

cut view of the wavy ridges that a chanterelle has
Chanterelles have false gills, which you can more easily see if you cut a slice of the mushroom. (Notice the waves, instead of sharp gill lines.)

I give lots of photo examples and ID tips there that are good to know.

chanterelle stems look like string cheese inside
The stem of a chanterelle is lighter inside and kind of looks like string cheese when you pull it open.

Basically, Chanterelles have “false gills” or ridges, while jack o lanterns have noticeable gills.

Jacks also tend to grow in clusters and on wood; while chanterelles are often singles and don’t grow from wood.

smooth chanterelle, Craterellus odoratus, and jack o lantern comparison
We tend to have the smoother looking chanterelles in greater abundance around here, so it’s pretty easy to tell them apart from jack o lanterns. Some chants are harder to tell though, so be sure to go through all of the ID features in my chanterelle article, plus get second and third verification sources!

(However, to make it more confusing, we have a “fragrant chanterelle”, Craterellus odoratus, growing around here, which also grows in clusters! Upon closer look though, you’ll notice that the flesh of Craterellus odoratus is very thin with vase shaped caps (kind of resembling a black trumpet), it doesn’t have gills, and doesn’t grow on wood.)

The Most Important Thing to Remember

Foraging Rule #1: If you have even the tiniest bit of doubt about a mushroom, plant, etc – don’t eat it!

I would also add as important thing #2, if a friend gives you some “chanterelles” they foraged, you’re still responsible for making sure they indeed gave you the right mushroom. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about newer foragers accidentally making their friends sick by confusing chanterelles and jacks.

Double check through all of the ID tips above, find out more about how it was collected (from the ground? on a dead tree in grandma’s back yard? in a big cluster? etc), and if you’re not 100% comfortable, don’t eat it.

jack o lantern mushrooms are a toxic lookalike for chanterelles
Jack-o-lantern mushrooms are sometimes confused for chanterelles. Jacks will make you feel very sick to your stomach, so always make sure you have a chanterelle and not a jack o’lantern!

What happens if you eat jack o’ lantern mushrooms?

The short answer is that you’ll have extreme digestive upset – intense nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Jack o’ lantern mushrooms contain toxic compounds and are not safe to eat.

If you’re a healthy adult, they’re not normally life threatening, you will just feel incredibly miserable for a while after eating them!

Poisoning with jacks is often treated with activated charcoal and IV fluids; be sure to consult qualified medical care if you think you’ve ingested any.

other foraging article for chanterelle reishi and chicken of the woods
We have an ever growing collection of foraging articles here on Unruly Gardening!

More Mushroom & Foraging Articles

Enjoy foraging mushrooms and other plants? We do too!

Here are some more articles you may enjoy:

(Plus check our “Forage” tab to explore even more plants and mushrooms!)

12 Tips for Foraging Morel Mushrooms

Growing & Foraging for Mullein (Plus Harvesting & Preserving tips!)

Foraging & Using Reishi Mushrooms

Foraging Chanterelle Mushrooms

All About Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Identifying Chicken of the Woods Mushroom

Foraging Usnea Sustainably (+uses & recipes!)

Foraging Goldenrod (Photos, Tips & Lookalikes!)

Our articles are for information and idea-sharing only. While we aim for 100% accuracy, it is solely up to the reader to provide proper identification. Be sure to seek out local foraging classes and plant walks, and invest in mushroom and foraging guides suitable for the area you live in, since some wild foods are poisonous, or may have adverse effect.

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