Jack, known for being a stingy man, had managed to trick the Devil into agreeing not to claim his soul upon his death. As he was not a good man, he was also denied into heaven. This left him cursed to walk to the Earth as a spirit. The devil, however, took pity on him and gave him a lump of burning coal so he’d have some light for his travels.
This coal was put into a carved turnip for easy carrying, and off Jack went. Legends started popping up of a phantom light leading people to their deaths in swamps and bogs. People believed this light was from Jack’s lantern, and many consider this to be the origin of Halloween’s traditional Jack-o-Lanterns.
There’s another form of Jack-o-Lantern, however: Omphalotus Illudens. These Jack-o-Lanterns are poisonous mushrooms that grow off of dead hardwoods, often deceiving people into thinking they’re Chanterelles. Chanterelles are one of the more well known edible wild mushrooms, and this causes lots of amateur foragers to end up in the hospital with intense stomach cramps and diarrhea. You likely won’t die from eating this impostor, but you’ll be quite miserable for several days.
At first glance, the two look a lot alike, but there are plenty of ways that they differ. Chanterelles grow in singles or very small groups out of the soil, while Jack-o-Lanterns band together in large bundles on or very near dead hardwoods. There are also differences in their looks. Gills are the biggest of which to look for. Although Chanterelles look like they have gills, they’re actually folds.
Both are recognized for their orange coloring, but Jack-o-Lanterns are said to glow faintly in the dark. While the glow is exclusive to Jack-o-Lanterns, just because the mushroom you found doesn’t glow doesn’t mean you’re safe. The glow is faint and fades away the older the mushroom is, especially once it’s been picked.
So, if you’re strolling through the woods at night and see a ghostly light, is it Jack hiding nearby hoping to lead you to your demise, or just a mushroom growing from the demise of a tree?