Moselio Schaechter mschaech at
Mon Dec 7 10:05:36 EST 1998

Knowledge that Armillaria mellea is bioluminescent seems to be quite
available.  Arora's "Mushrooms Demystified" mentions it, and so do a number
of textbooks.   Because of the wide distribution of this and related
species, this is the most likely source of "foxfire."

May I quote a few paragraphs on the subject from my book, "In the Company
of Mushrooms?"

""The greenish light, known as "foxfire," is given out not only by the
mushrooms themselves but also by the mycelium, the fungal filaments that
often permeate the wood of diseased trees. The surface layers of the
mycelium of such impregnated wood, which is called "touchwood," can be seen
to glow fairly brightly for one or two weeks. This property has inspired
fear and wonder since time immemorial.  Imagine finding a tree branch
shining bright (with apologies to William Blake) in the forests of the
night!  Legends describing such eerie encounters can be found in ancient
Greek, Roman, and Indian texts. It has even been suggested that this
phenomenon may explain the biblical story of the bush that burned without
being consumed, showing Moses the way to the Promised Land. It was pointed
out by the British mycologist John Ramsbottom, however, that Moses was
unlikely to have led the way at night, when the luminescence would be

        The whole subject of bioluminescence is wanting for an explanation.
Luminescent animals may conceivably use the light to find mates or food,
but this can hardly be the reason mushrooms glow in the dark.

        People from many parts of the world have found uses for these
natural lanterns. The Swedish historian Olaus Magnus wrote in 1652 that
people in the far north of Scandinavia would place pieces of rotten oak
bark at intervals when venturing into the forest. They could then find
their way back by following the light. Similarly, during World War I
soldiers in the trenches placed touchwood on their helmets to keep from
bumping into others in the dark. The Native American herbalist
Keewaydinoquay relates that an Ahnishinaubeg shaman of her acquaintance
positioned two glowing wooden pillars on either side of her doorway, much
as suburban homeowners arrange lights on a front lawn. These ghostly lights
scared visitors instead of attracting them, however, and the logs were soon

Elio Schaechter

At 5:57 AM 12/4/98, Jetilla wrote:
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>Don't know anything about culturing or extracting them, but is anyone aware
>that the Armillaria mellea is bioluminescent? I found some while stumbling
>around in the dark once.
>Might post the article later, if I get round to typing it up.
>Mike o'dell wrote:
>> Dear All,
>> Has anybody a good selective media to isolate Armillaria sp. from infected
>> wood.
>> Thanks in advance,
>> beatriceh

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