Don’t get me wrong, Shiitake, Reishi, and Maitake are really cool mushrooms, but have you heard of the Mycena lux-coeli mushrooms? Literally translated to mean “heavenly light mushrooms,” this species of fungi is bioluminescent, meaning that they produce light and is known by the locals as shii no tomobishi-dake.
These little guys sprout from fallen chinquapin trees. As they grow they undergo a chemical reaction with a light-emitting pigment contained within the pigment known as luciferin, causing them to glow a ghostly green. (Fun fact: lucifer in latin literally means “light-giver,” and that’s how the chemical got its name!) This same reaction occurs in many other bioluminescent organisms, but it is rare to see it above ground, typically this only occurs with marine plants.
Once a year they reach their peak luminescence in the forests of Japan and this year, some of the photos are insane. Also known as “forest fairies,” they are hard to spot during the day since they only grow an average of 2 centimeters in diameter, but once night falls you can see them covering plenty of fallen trees and the ground in Nachikatsuura, Wakayama prefecture.
They were first found in 1954 on a small island south of Tokyo. The locals there referred to them at hato-no-hi mushrooms, which translates to “pigeon fire.” Now that they are found in mainland Japan, you can take tours into the Ugui forest to visit the homeland of these funky fungi.
Not only is the mushroom luminescent, but Kunihiko Otsuki, who studies Mycena lux-coeli, found that their mycelium threads are bioluminescent too. No one knows why exactly they grow (the purpose of why, that is), but Otsuki says that it may be to attract bugs. Similar to the lights at Friday night football games that attract dozens of moths, many of the insects of Japan come out at night to munch on the glowing mushrooms. They then disperse the spores they’ve collected, like bees and their role in pollination.
Otsuki thinks this is a great way to raise awareness about natural forests. Shigeru Nishigaito, a night-time mushroom guide, says “For many people, [coming on our tour] is the first time they’ve come into the forest at night. Everyone is really delighted by these mushrooms.” As more people take these tours, it has piqued common interest in forest preservation and mankind’s role in fighting climate change. Many have dubbed this “the coolest mushroom they have ever seen” and looking at the photos taken this past June, I couldn’t agree more.
For travel and mushroom enthusiasts alike you can visit the forests of Wakayama during the summer rainy season. This is typically from May to July, but you can tour the forest through the Ugui Visitor Center through the end of June. In the words of Ellie from UP, “Adventure is out there!”