‘I’ve never seen them that big, or that color,’ resident says of odd mushroom

Sep 23, 2021

Eleanor Mello is no stranger to mushrooms.

She routinely walks around her Sol E Mar Lane neighborhood, picking them so that local dogs don’t ingest them and possibly become ill.

 She worries less about the squirrels that might feast on them. 

“They have cast iron stomachs,” she said of the bushy-tailed rodents.

 But this year, under a picnic table near her apartment, she saw something she had never witnessed in her 88 years.

 Mushrooms had grown to the size of a garbage can lid.

And they were orange.

 She first noticed them after the landscaper cut the grass and left behind what she thought were leaves under the picnic table.

 That puzzled her and she wondered, “Why didn’t he pick up the leaves?”

 Then she took a closer look and realized, to her astonishment, that they were mushrooms.

 “I’ve never seen them that big, or that color,” she said.

A mushroom expert, when shown a photo, identified it as a mushroom with a seasonally appropriate name — the jack-o’-lantern, or omphalotus illudens.

The jack-o’-lantern mushroom grows directly out of wood, according to Gary Gilbert of the Boston Mycological Club, the oldest mushroom club in the country.

The mushroom has gills and stems and grows in clusters attached at the stem base, he said.

They are “brilliant to look at, but poisonous to eat,” he said. “You can touch them all you want, though.”

 The mushroom under the picnic table near Mello’s home drew a fair amount of attention in her housing complex, Mello said. Several neighbors stopped by the table and snapped photos, she said.

 She believes the mushroom showed up seemingly overnight and had a light-hearted theory about its origins. 

 “Maybe some aliens dropped it,’’ she said.