Luminescent Fungi

There is a lot written about luminescent fungi both in lore and folklore but there is not a lot of scientific substance to the tales.    Nowadays, however,  they are transferring the firefly gene willy nilly to all kinds of receptor organisms including fungi.   I haven't much to say about all that except that I had a minor chance experience myself with  luminescent fungi many years ago.  While I reported on this event in these pages before, the info is so buried in the morasss of my website that I could hardly find the location myself.   I resurrect the story here for those readers who missed it earlier and still take delight  in minor trivial experiences.

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FOXFIRE   for more info on 'FOXFIRE' see  http://inamidst.com/lights/foxfire

Wood infected by Armillaria mellea Photo by  Lex Kreffer, Leiden University (click here for more info)

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My Modest Tale on a Bioluminescence Experience

One day in late fall (I think it was a Wednesday) a man rushed into my office at the University of Guelph clutching a large cardboard box and clearly in a state of high excitement. This was his story:

He was up at the cottage for the weekend.  His cottage lot had a large, old, rotting, deciduous stump that was in an inconvenient spot.  It interfered with general activities, parking, fun and games, and was an obstacle to general mayhem and in particular caused serious risk to those wondering around the lot in the dark (or light for that matter) in various states of inebriation.

So, he determined to rid himself, once and for all, of this objectionable hazard.  He armed himself with a variety of tools but found a large wood-chopping axe was the weapon of choice.  Using this axe, he attacked the stump with vim, vigour, general gusto, and great enthusiasm just after lunch on Saturday.    Unfortunately, it was a much bigger job than he anticipated and he was slow to make an impression on this large, hardwood stump.   Many hours passed, wood chips were flying in all directions with the vigour of his assault.    And he was measurably running out of both enthusiasm and energy.    But he was a stubborn man, of stout heart and perseverance (probably from Scotland), and at last he completed the job.   By that time, however,  it was almost dark and he was thoroughly exhausted.  The wood chips by then were scattered widely over the yard and it was pretty messy, but 'tomorrow is another day' and he could clean up then.   

At any rate, he dragged his weary body into the cottage,  too exhausted even to eat supper, and fell onto his bunk in a deep slumber.    When he awoke it was late into the night but he saw a  light coming from the yard.   He we went to the cottage window and lo and behold the yard was completely lit up by an intense green glow from the hundreds of wood chips scattered around the lot.   He was amazed, awed, and almost overwhelmed by this miraculous occurrence.

The next morning (Sunday), he got a large cardboard box,   filled it with the wood chips,  put it in the trunk of his car, and drove all the way home.  Unfortunately, he was a bit busy and couldn’t get to our University right away.   In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it was a Wednesday by the time he came to my office.   And it was pretty hot weather at the time.   So, his box of wood chips had been in the trunk of his car for several hot days.  'Ah! There's the rub'.

We took the box into the photographic darkroom, put out the lights and opened up the box. Now, I would like to say that the whole darkroom was lit up by a green spiritual glow. Sadly, not so!  Absolutely NOTHING!  Not even the faintest glimmer.

Of course this was not unexpected.  Three days (more or less) in the trunk of a hot car had effectively cooked the hyphae into premature demise.   Luminescence is a vital phenomenon and the dead hyphae could no longer emit.   ‘C’est la vie’ as the say in La Belle Provence. ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles’ say our neighbours to the South. ‘There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip’ as my old granny in Scotland used to remind me (too often as I recall).

The cottager was very disappointed that I couldn’t witness his personal miracle.  And suitably chagrined at his stupidity in not bringing the box in right away on Monday morning.  But I assured him that the long trip down Highways 11 and 400, from north of Huntsville with the hot sun trying to burn a hole in his trunk, would probably be sufficient in itself to kill the fungus and it wouldn’t have made much difference anyway.  

Note:   The facts in this story are essentially true but are slightly altered (embellished?) for what is euphemistically called  'artistic license' or as Emeril would say  'to kick it up a notch'!   The fungus responsible was Armillaria mellea but the REAL question is why do hyphae and fruitbodies of fungi luminesce?!

For more info on 'FOXFIRE' see http://inamidst.com/lights/foxfire