Glowing & Luminous Fungi Algae and Fireflies

A collection of references to Bioluminescence

In 'Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons', Gerald Durrell is on Rodrigues Island (East of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean) trying to catch Rodrigues Bats for his Zoo :-

"On the fallen and rotting branches that lay about, I found innumerable small phosphorescent fungi that glowed with a bright, greenish-blue light, so that part of forest floor was illuminated like a city seen from the air at night. I collected some of these twigs and branches, and found that ten or twelve of these glowing fungi produced enough light to be able to read by, providing you kept your light source fairly close to the page".

This quote generated a lot of interest and resulted in numerous enquiries, references and personal observations.

It would be very interesting to receive more to add to this (ever-glowing!) collection.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed.

This sounds like fun - where can I get some. Imagine the energy saving if you could illuminate the world at night just with fungi! Still, I expect there is a snag....

To the best of my knowledge, phosphorescent fungi aren't present in Indian forests. However, while surfing the net, I came across:

Q. Pixies at home - A small toadstool that glows brightly at night is growing on a rotting log in my garden in south-east Queensland. What is the evolutionary advantage of such a characteristic? Does it attract things which it eats, or does it repel things which would eat it?

A. Fungi glow not to attract things which they eat but to attract things which eat them. Many fungi benefit from animal dispersion. Truffles, for example, emit a strong aroma that attracts animals, which then eat the subterranean fungus. The spores pass through the gut and are not only dispersed but also provided with nutrients.

Virtually all members of the fungal family Phallales (stinkhorn fungi) give off an unpleasant odour redolent of rotting meat or sewage, which attracts beetles or flies. These disperse the spores, either when they pass through the gut or when they become attached to the insects' head or thorax. Similar dispersal mechanisms are common among flowering plants.

Phosphorescent fungi attract night-flying insects, such as moths, which perform the same role. It is quite common to find the fruiting bodies of such fungi moth-eaten and full of larvae, by which time the glow is reduced to that of the palest moonlight.

MICHAEL MCBAIN Australian Fungal Mapping Project Monash University

A. Luminescent species of fungi attract small flies and other insects, which help to disperse the spores of the fungi and, because of the faeces they produce, contribute to the growth of the fungi. The problem is that bad guys are also attracted, such as fungus gnats, some of which eat the spores and, therefore, are harmful to the fungal propagation.

But nothing is simple in biology: the light emitted by the fungus also attracts tiny parasitic wasps that attack fungus gnats. They lay their eggs in the adults or in the gnats' eggs, thereby killing off some of the spore stealers.

Why aren't all fungi luminescent? Leaving aside "ultra weak photon emissions", which occur in all species, few species produce light bright enough to be seen by the human eye. What's more, even luminescent fungi can be grown under conditions in which they do not glow, and non-luminescent mutants show no growth defects whatsoever, so the light is clearly not of great importance.

As far back as 1962, McElroy and Seliger suggested that fungal luminescence was a vestigial phenomenon, preserved in a few species. It originated after photosynthetic organisms evolved, when oxygen was toxic to most species and the best way to get rid of it was to chemically reduce it to water. The production of light accompanied this reaction. All the successful oxygen-removing organisms at that time, according to McElroy and Seliger, might have been potentially luminescent.

VICTOR MEYER-ROCHOW Department of Biology Oulu University Finland

Pradipta [India]

Only mushroom I ever heard of glowing in the dark is the "Jack O'lantern" (Omphalatus Olearius). A fairly large, yellow mushroom which grows in clumps at the base of trees.

"The first time I noticed these was while returning home one night through the olive-woods of Analypsis. I was quite startled to see a cluster of tiny lights at the dark foot of an olive-tree. These glowed with a steady greenish phosphorescence like little fairy lanterns. And, like true fairy lanterns, they seemed to possess a mirage fitfulness. It took me several minutes to get my hands on them and discover that the luminescence was due to a species of orange toadstool, Clitocybe olearia, which only grows under or near olive trees.

This fungus is extremely common in Corfu towards the end of autumn. It is poisonous, but fortunately the results of eating it are rarely fatal though they may cause much discomfort."

ISLAND TRAILS © Theodore Stephanides 1973

"A path led from the terrace into a shadowy avenue of cypresses [in Corfu], and I was rather surprised to notice that the gravel was spangled here and there with little greenish lights. Faint at first, these gradually grew brighter as my eyes became more used to the  dark until they could be distinguished from a distance of twenty feet or more. A little scrabbling about on hands and knees soon showed that these enigmatic glimmers were due to Nostoc commune, a luminous alga which grows in greenish-brown patches on damp which is known in some of the rural districts of England as "fallen stars"."

ISLAND TRAILS © Theodore Stephanides 1973

This website appears to have a picture of luminous fungi in a cosy domestic setting and has the intention of selling it to you!:-

Q. During a nocturnal walk in the woods of the Belgian Ardennes, I found a piece of rotten wood. To my surprise, I saw a soft glow inside. As I write this, after 24 hours in darkness, the wood is still glowing. What causes this?

A. This type of glow was noted by Aristotle more than 2000 years ago. It is a bioluminescence caused by a wood-rotting fungus and is akin to the light of the glow-worm, firefly and lantern fish. The mechanism is the oxidation of luciferin, a light-emitting compound, mediated by the enzyme luciferase.

Many micro-organisms luminesce, including the vegetative filaments of fungi. One of the most common and spectacular is the honey fungus toadstool (Armillaria mellea). It is a serious and destructive parasite of many trees and is probably what the questioner saw. The infested wood, and the strap-like strands which spread the fungus beneath the bark, glow with a greenish light. A closely related North American toadstool (Clitocybe illudens) is named jack-o'-lantern for the same reason.

A. The honey fungus is a very common parasitic mushroom on trees and woody shrubs. It spreads by root-like growths called rhizomorphs. The tips of the rhizomorphs and the mycelium of the fungus are luminescent. Soldiers in the trenches during the First World War used to attach pieces of rotting wood to their helmets to avoid colliding in the dark, and in the Second World War the fire watchers in timber yards covered brightly glowing wood with tarpaulins for fear that enemy aircraft would spot it.

The light emitted by bioluminescence will probably vary in strength over time; keeping the wood moist (but not saturated) and at a temperature between 10 degrees and 25 degrees C should maximise the output. There is no known biological benefit for luminescence in fungi; perhaps the light attracts invertebrates that then eat the smaller invertebrates grazing on the fungal mycelium.

My Dad showed me a tree stump that glowed in the dark when I was very young. He called it foxfire. It was in the U.S. Can't remember where. It was eastern U.S. I guess it is the moss you are talking about.


Q. What is photobacteria and how does it function? I am interested in finding out more about bioluminescent plants.

Q. What's occurring in fungi like foxfire to cause it to be luminescent?

A. Many organisms in each living kingdom exhibit bioluminescence. It occurs in organisms that use chemical energy to produce light energy. They use chemical energy which excites a molecule called "the luminescent molecule". When the excitement of this molecule decays, it emits light. The color of the light depends on the energy of the light emitted. Some organisms emit light only when they are disturbed. Mushrooms emit light continuously. Some scientists believe that mushrooms use their light to attract insects. The insects disperse the mushroom spores in the environment.

With regard to the part of your question about photobacteria, the types of photobacteria that are bioluminescent produce light in the same way I described above. Bioluminescent bacteria are common in the marine environment and are a common cause of glowing seafood. Most bioluminescent fish do not produce their own light. Instead, they contain bioluminescent bacteria. Some fish have these bacteria living in pockets under their eyes. The light that shines from the pockets enable the fish to see better in their dark habitat. Another fish, the angler fish, uses bioluminescent bacteria to catch its food. When fish are attracted to the light near its jaws they are eaten. Some fish also use their bioluminescent bacteria to help them find each other for mating or to help keep them together in schools. Some fish and squid leave behind a cloud of their bioluminescent bacteria when they are being chased by predators. The bright cloud can temporarily blind the predator, allowing the fish or squid to escape. Bioluminescence has not been observed in birds, mammals or higher plants.

Some mushrooms and fungi are able to glow in the dark (called bioluminescence). This is due to a chemical in the fungus that reacts with oxygen – the same process as in fireflies. In the Atherton Region  (Australia) there is one such mushroom. It is a very small blue-green glowing cap only 3-5mm in diameter, and is commonly seen on the forest floor.

Did you know that fireflies sleep? Around 9PM apparently their glow fades and they go to sleep. One night in the 1930's, before retiring, Corfu fireflies and a school of porpoises gave the Durrell family a private pageant:-

"First of all there were just two or three specks, sliding smoothly through the trees, winking regularly. But gradually more and more appeared, until parts of the olive-grove were lit with a weird green glow. Never had we seen so many fireflies congregated in one spot; they flicked through the trees in swarms, they crawled on the grass, the bushes and the olive trunks, they drifted in swarms over our heads and landed on the rugs, like green embers. Glittering streams of them flew out over the bay, swirling over the water, and then, right on cue, the porpoises appeared, swimming in line into the bay, rocking rhythmically through the water, their backs as if painted with phosphorous. In the centre of the bay they swam around, diving and rolling occasionally leaping high in the air and falling back into a conflagration of light. With the fireflies above and the illuminated porpoises below it was a fantastic sight. We could even see the luminous trails beneath the surface where the porpoises swam in fiery patterns across the sandy bottom, and when they leapt high in the air the drops of emerald glowing water flicked from them, and you could not tell if it was phosphorescence or fireflies you were looking at."


Fireflies and Stars (and an aircraft trail)


"Another phenomenon, more often associated with the tropics, is fairly common around the Greek Islands; this is the "phosphorescent sea". It is seen at its best on moonless nights in late August and September and seems, for some reason or other, to be brightest when a thunder-storm is impending. Then every splash of the oars, every ripple past bow or stern, every swirl in the long wake, is outlined by darting sparkles of greenish fire.

A dive over the boat's side is a thing to be remembered forever. As you part the velvety black of the waters, countless millions of green sparks streak past you like a storm of stars. Minute fiery snow-flakes brush you in wind-blown flurries until your flesh squirms with conviction that they must burn you. And auto-suggestion almost convinces you that they do! The sensation is so incredibly eerie that, after a few minutes of it, you generally scramble back into the boat in a hurry.

The cause of all this firework display is a unicellular animalcule, Noctiluca miliaris, shaped like a tiny translucent cherry. The stalk of the cherry is represented by a short whip or or flagellum with which it propels itself by rhythmically beating the water. And the size of this organism, which is sometimes so numerous it can illuminate many square miles of ocean? Only one millimeter (1/25th inch) in diameter - just big enough to be visible to the naked eye."

ISLAND TRAILS © Theodore Stephanides 1973


(Indian Ocean; December, 1900)

The sun had set behind a greying shroud,

The air was stagnant, and sheet-lightning strayed

In sudden soundless flares from cloud to cloud,

The sea was glazed with a black film of jade,

But as the light seeped slowly from the sky,

It found a brighter focus in the tides

Bursting in sparks along the steamer's sides

As each bow-wave in turn came hissing by ....


Till every fathom of our churning trail

Was lit by swirls of opalescent spray

Spread in an ever-widening fan of light.

And round us dolphins linked in headlong play,

Their flashing forms aflame from snout to tail,

Scrawled scintillating runes against the night.

CITIES OF THE MIND © Theodore Stephanides 1969

Imagine, if you will, being on a raft at night in the Pacific Ocean drifting on the current silently from South America to Polynesia (this is not for readers of a nervous disposition!).

"When night had fallen, and the stars were twinkling in the dark tropical sky, the phosphorescence flashed around us in rivalry with the stars, and single glowing plankton resembled round live coals so vividly that we involuntarily drew in our bare legs when the glowing pellets were washed up round our feet at the raft's stern. When we caught them we saw that they were brightly shining species of shrimps. On such nights we were sometimes scared when two round eyes suddenly rose out of the sea right alongside the raft and glared at us with an unblinking hypnotic stare - it might have been the Old Man of the Sea himself. These were often big squids which came up and floated on the surface with their devilish green eyes shining in the dark like phosphorous. But sometimes they were the shining eyes of deep-water fish which only came up at night and lay staring, fascinated by the glimmer of light before them. Several times, when the sea was calm, the black water round the raft was suddenly full of round heads two or three feet in diameter, lying motionless and staring at us with great glowing eyes. On other nights balls of light three feet and more in diameter would would be visible down in the water, flashing at regular intervals like electric lights turned on for a moment."

(Thor Heyerdahl - Kon-Tiki Expedition).

These are a couple more references relating to the "Phosphorescent Sea":-


Very interesting sketch and accounts of gigantic rotating rimless wheels of light at sea (500-600 yards  across up to 1/2 mile spokes cycling in less than a second) attributed to the bioluminescent marine organisms, or Noctiluca miliaris (plankton), present in profusion, radiating spokes of light moving rotationally on the surface of the water become visible and are seen to be rapidly revolving around a central hub. Nearing the observer's ship the bands of light have been seen to curve concavely into the direction of their rotation, each band passing the ship at the rate of roughly one second intervals, and at speeds of 60 to 200 miles per hour. Location 19.5 degrees N & S of the equator e.g. Bay of Bengal, Gulf of Oman, Queensland and Vietnam. The duration of the 'light shows' has been said to last from 15 to 30 minutes.

The author, unfortunately, spoils his case because, not understanding the cause, he makes the mistake of jumping to some bizarre conclusion involving crop circles which defeated me.  (round here in Southern England making crop circles is a minor national pastime!) Still, very extraordinary information.

2. Photograph of Noctiluca miliaris "bloom" off the South African Cape, unfortunately in broad daylight.

As a theory perhaps disturbance of water like porpoises (My Family & Other Animals), dolphins and the bow of a ship (Theodore Stephanides) triggers the bio-luminescence  in one or a few individuals and the effect is transmitted through the Noctiluca miliaris like a chain reaction (like the waving hands effect crowds like so much in stadiums). Perhaps this spreads out in a particular geometrical pattern for some reason. What would be the point? All I can think of is that if one or a few organisms were being attacked it might be a way to combine together to frighten off a predator like, say, a whale??

I'm an educator at the Museum of Science in Boston. I was skimming an  old (1969) children's book on plants that mentioned several vascular  plants that were supposedly bioluminescent, but with no literature and few Latin names cited.

The plants were:

Schistostega osmundacea, a European moss found in  caves;

Nasturtiums(with flashes of light occasionally from flowers & leaves supposedly first observed by Linnaeus' daughter in 1762);

Marigolds (double blossoms of common marigold, normal blossoms of African  marigolds);

Oriental poppies-flowers (supposedly first observed by Goethe in 1799...hmmmm...was he smoking those poppies?): and scarlet verbena (flashes of light from plant to plant).

Have you heard of reliable recent reports or scientific studies of these  plants with regard to natural (rather than the newfangled transgenic) bioluminescence?


Sue Stoessel

Senior Education Specialist


Dear Sue,

The short answer is no. I could not even find direct confirmation that the flowers your book mentions are bioluminescent [I think we are really meaning here capable of "communicating", in the most general sense and, not necessarily, with themselves, by light flashes]. That does not mean they are not by a long chalk. Some books refer to certain flowers (or their colours) being luminous and possibly this has something to do with it. I will post your query and this reply on the web site as every now and again I get emails on the subject and perhaps another visitor can shed some further light (sorry about the pun).

These are a few miscellanous odds, ends and curiosities I have dug out and mention in case they are of interest:-

1. An interesting sounding book if anyone has access to a good scientific library:-

Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence: Molecular Reporting with Photons

by J. W. Hastings (Editor), L. J. Kricka (Editor), P. E. Stanley (Editor)

2. Here, where I am in Dorset UK test GM planting of crops is a very contentious subject, occasionally lapsing into verbal or even physical clashes between conservationist and farmers. Anyway I came across this reference [horror story?]:

A new "artificial" orchid [Dendrobrium] from Singapore glows in the dark developed using a gene from the firefly claims to be "the world's first (and so far only) bioluminescent flower".

3. I think, for non-specialists, a moss is a plant and not a flower unless anyone claims different! Anyway this is a little information on the luminous moss you mention I found on the web:-

Elfin-gold (Schistostega pennata; formerly S. osmunda cea), light-reflecting plant of the order Bryales, native to the Northern Hemisphere. It forms green mats in caves, holes in wood or earth, or cavities between rocks or under tree roots. A luminous moss is about one centimetre or more tall. [Enc. Brittanica]

4. I cannot resist recommending here Sir David Attenboroughs BBC TV series The Blue Planet and particularly the awesome 50 minute episode "The Deep" - full of film of "out of this world" deep ocean bioluminescence.

5. This needs a short diversion for an intro. One day a few weeks ago I picked up a paperback copy of Apollo 13 and idly read it. I expect most of you have seen the film of a few years ago. Well, the book is miles better mainly because Astronaut Commander Jim Lovell co-wrote it with a brilliant writer on scientific matters called Jeffrey Kluger. I'd have thought this story was about as far away from bioluminescence as you could get.

In the Spring of 1950's then pilot Jim Lovell was practising his first night flight from an aircraft carrier off the coast of Japan. To cut a long story short the aircraft carrier was showing no lights for a landing and Jim Lovell, as a result of an accident in his cockpit, loses his instruments needed to land back on the carrier but not The Right Stuff, of course. This is the interesting part:-

"Lovell took the penlight out of his mouth, switched it off, and scanned the darkness. Down below him at about two o'clock, he thought he noticed a faint greenish glow forming a shimmering trail in the black water. The eerie radiance was barely visible and would have been lost to Lovell altogether had the blackness in the cockpit not acclimatised his eyes to the darkness. But the sight of it made his heart leap. He was certain he knew what the strange radiance was: a cloud of phosphorescent algae churned into luminosity by the screws of the cruising carrier. Pilots knew that a spinning propeller would light up organisms in the water, and this could help them locate a missing ship. It was one of the most least reliable and most desperate methods of bringing a lost plane home safely, but when all else failed it could sometimes do the trick. Lovell told himself that all else had indeed failed, and, with a fatalistic shrug he peeled off in pursuit of the dim green streak."

Sorry about the meandering diversions. If you find out more on the subject it would be interesting to hear from you.

The jungles of Belize have glowing fungi. It looked like someone had spilled a glow stick on some tree bark. I experienced this first hand when I was looking at the stars in the pitch black dark. I removed it from the area. The sample however died sometime later. It was a yellow/green color. I have been looking for pictures of different glowing fungi with no success to classify this find. Please point me in the right direction if you have any idea of where to look.

Frank Dancer

I have seen some glow in the dark moss here in Virginia. I was very puzzled by it, because I had never seen such a thing in my life.


Hello, Came across your web site while doing a search for Vietnam trees. When I was an Infantry soldier in Vietnam in late 1967 we were on night maneuvers northwest of Tam Ky in, I think Quang Tri province. We were operating in triple canopy jungle, and came across an open area in the jungle with one tree all by itself. The leaves that were on the ground were all glowing but not the ones on the tree. The tree was approximately 30 feet tall, very nice round shape to it, with no trees under it. Just seemed to be by itself. We picked up the leaves and you could read with the light they put off. It was so dark in there that we put one leaf in the back of our helmets so we could see each other. They were visible up to approximately 6 or 8 feet. The leaves resembled a willow leaf we have in Ohio. I have never seen anything like this before or since, and was wondering if you had any knowledge of what type of tree it may be or what may have caused it. There didn't appear to be any trails leading into or out of the area other than the one we made. This has bugged me for many years and sure would appreciate any help unravelling this mystery.


Tim Martin

Millersburg, Ohio 44654-

After searching the web for information on glowing fungus I came across your site but sadly there were no pictures, I am located in Northern NSW Australia.

We are at the start of Summer and after a week of heavy rain I discovered this in the garden on a moon light night.

The glow was very bright a blue/green fluoro colour and was growing on only one type of plant a small palm tree. At night it appeared like crystals by torch light but on closer inspection in day light it was a small mushroom.

Feel free to use these pictures if you would like to.


Attached is a news paper clipping about glowing fungus found at the Barrington Tops NSW Australia, thought it might be of interest.

Lea & Big Dog

Wyninebah SFT & Dobermanns

Hello from Queensland Australia.

Your site followers may be interested in our Current Studies into the bioluminescent organisms of the Springbrook Plateau in the border ranges of south east Queensland.

With kind regards,

Garry Maguire

Springbrook Research Centre

Hi, I hope I've clicked on the right link to email this site!

I too have discovered some glowing fungi in my garden. I suspect that it is the same species as that described and photographed by Lea from northern NSW in the previous posting. I live in Brisbane, QLD, Australia, and found the fungi nestled in the trunk of very same type of palm tree as that in Lea's photo! Perhaps there is some kind of symbiosis between these two species fungus and palm. I'd like to know more about this fungus, such as its scientific name, its distribution, and whether it does indeed have a symbiosis with phoenix palms. Alas, I have found nothing else on the net so far!

Angus Veitch

We shared in a weird event retiring from campfire around 2am in the morning. On the ground in the front yard where we sawed wood for the upcoming winter we found specks of glowing green all over the place. As we proceeded towards the cabin steps we caught the green glow coming from the wood pile. It was really strange and no, we weren't drinking! We took a ride the next day and visited the ranger station where we learned it sounded like foxfire. When we left before labor day a piece was still glowing in the basement-not as bright but still gave us a weird feeling. All my research states foxfire is the culprit and no Halloween joke! To think this is in the year 2006 too!


When I recently posted some images on my LiveJournal about luminous fungi I went looking for more info and came across your page: Thanks for the information.

My LiveJournal page with the luminous fungi pictures is at:

You are welcome to use my pictures on your page if you wish. If you want larger ones I'm happy to email them to you (free of course).

Very best wishes,

- Miriam

. Dear Madam/Sir,

I recorded a luminous wood in my area near kathana river of kheri district India. I send you a link regarding luminosity you may see my links.


Krishna Kumar Mishra
Wildlife Biologist & Nature Photographer
77, Canal Rd. Shiv Colony Lakhimpur Kheri-262701, Uttar Pradesh

... Actually It is not seasonal phenomenon, A guava tree in a garden near river have dried and fell on the ground, after few month people used its wood and roots in their daily use, One day a man stolen its root's wood for making agricultural emplements. He made a handle of knife but when he slept and rise before dawn, he saw that luminous wood in his knife he afraid and start crying in the terror of unknown magical & ghost light, people congregated in his home and advised him that he put this wood in its orgin place, here this story began ......................In every night people goes that place and worship whole roots of guava as a "Lakkar Baba" Wood God".........This place already has very good fame because there are many priests are living for 150 years and this place called as a
"Nariha Baba".

Luminosity depend on fungal's lifecycle So I can not say about perennial luminosity in guava but light emmission is continue till now. I have many practical with luminous wood but I have got success in One, If I put it in water, It become more luminous. I heard about it from local people who said that luminosity depend on dew and night. I done it in different way I got more light in soaked stick.

In India I have not heard about luminous wood before this incident so I have no more info regarding bioluminescent except fire flies because I am M Sc in Zoology with specialisation in entomology, In mycology I have no more info.

OK I am sending you few photographs which was taken by me in night.

with regards
Krishna Kumar Mishra

My husband and I purchased a piece of land that was select cut in 2008. We have been working to clean up and burn the debris that was left by the loggers.  He used his tractor to push up large piles of old wood to burn.  We stayed to watch the fire while it was getting dark.  As the sun went down we noticed that the ground around us began to glow.  I thought that there were hot embers all around us but the glow was greenish and not amber.  My husband touched a glowing stick to see if it was hot but it was not.  He picked it up and we were quite confused and amazed. When I got to a computer I was able to find your site and learn what we had discovered.  Nature is outstanding. Thank God for our unique earth. I have attached some pictures of a piece of  wood in light and glowing in the dark.  
Tracy Serpas

Glowing Wood
Glowing Wood

Glowing Wood

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