family of fungi goes by the name of Hygrocybe, meaning
"moist head". They have a high water content within
a waterproof waxy layer. Some are covered with a slimy layer
on the cap.
are found on open unfertilised grassland (a declining habitat)
and old cemetries, usually from September to early November
with a peak around early October.
relatively small size and high water content allow them to
survive where the sun and wind create very drying conditions.
are very sensitive to the high nitrogen content of artificial
fertiliser and are indicators of ancient unfertilised grassland.
A good site may contain a dozen to twenty species; a site
that has been treated with artificial fertiliser is unlikely
to have more than one or two species.
research suggests they have a role in recycling nitrogen deep
in the soil, rather than sapropytes recycling the top layers
of leaf litter.
bodies can be erratic in numbers from one year to the next
depending on the weather, especially the level of rainfall.
The extensive networks of mycelia in the soil are also sensitive
to disturbance and can take years to recover. Because of the
downward facing cap, spores are not generally dispersed over
large areas and can take up to twenty years to develop sufficiently
to produce fruiting bodies.
distribution in Britain is mainly towards the wetter west
and north. Cumbria is therefore a good place to look for them,
especially on the low fells, on limestone commons, in dune
slacks and old churchyards.
form an interesting group because of the variety of colour
and gill form. Some species are very similar and require specialist
identification; there is still much discussion as to which
actually form separate species or are variations. I have followed
Boertmann's naming of taxa and the British Mycological Society's
House Museum, Carlisle, launched a Cumbria Waxcap Survey in
2010. Over the next year or two it is hoped to gain a better
understanding of their occurrence and distribution in Cumbria.
If you have any records please send them to me via the contact
link above or to Tullie House via www.lakelandwildlife.co.uk
With one exception these examples were photographed on Birkrigg
Common, Ulverston, where I have found about 15 - 20 different
species/varieties between August and November. The selection
is offered to illustrate the variety that is possible on a good
site. I am much indebted to Dr. Mike Hall for his helpful advice
and suggestions but any errors are my responsibilty!
Waxcap H. splendidissima. Largest species,
a speciality of the north and Scotland. Tomato red cap,
stem fibrillose but smoother than punicea, stem
flesh saffron yellow. Said to smell of honey when it dries.
May be confused with a large coccinea; narrowly
adnate gills and spore examination should confirm.
Waxcap H. punicea. Large species, initially
dark red, stem coarsely fibrillose and flesh of stem white.
Cap often turns red then yellow with age.
Waxcap H. pratensis. Medium to large
species, dry apricot orange cap, paler decurrent gills.
Often distorts as it ages.
Waxcap H. laeta. Small orange species
with viscid cap when fresh. Gill edges viscid and seen
to be transparent with a hand lens.
Waxcap H. colemanniana. Brown cap pales
at edges as it ages and may then show darker striae. Strongly
decurrent gills, white with a tinge of brown. Look for
interveining and furcation of gills. Stem white. Nationally
scarce, except on chalk downs.
Waxcap H. fornicata. More grey brown
than Toasted and with narrowly adnate gills.
Waxcap H. chlorophana. Deep yellow cap,
adnexed gills, stem yellow and slightly moist.
Waxcap H. reidii. Lovely deep orange
greasy cap when fresh, often crenellated. Gills almost
decurrent, paler with tinge of lilac darkening with age.
Smell of honey, especially when stem base is rubbed or
Waxcap H. virginea. Small pure white
caps. Strongly decurrent gills. This species is very common
in Cumbria and the Midlands.
Waxcap H. russocoriacea. More ivory
colour than white. Much less common than Snowy but can
be frequent where it occurs. Smell of pencil shavings
Waxcap variety H
virginea var. ochraceopallida. Usually a bit more
robust than virginea with a pinkish/buff cap
rather than pure white. Usually found on limestone. Slight
earthy smell rather than cedar. Scarce nationally (or
Waxcap variety H
virginea var. fuscescens. This variety was unrecorded
in Cumbria and scarcer nationally than var. ochraceopallida.
It has a more distinct brown, rather than pinkish/buff,
central spot and sometimes a smaller more distinct, rather
than broader, central umbo. Boertmann indicates intermediate
forms occur of these varieties.
Waxcap H. psittacina. Slimy and green
when fresh. Light affects the pigment so it turns brown,
yellow brown and even canary yellow. Stem usually remains
green near the top (in shade). A specimen (top right)
that was half hidden in the grass is both bright green
and bright yellow, hence the name.
Waxcap H. coccinea. Usually smaller
than Splendid and Crimson waxcaps, say 2 - 5cm and broadly
adnate gills as opposed to narrowly adnate of other two.
Often in large groups, centre may go buff/grey with age.
Waxcap H. conica. A small example, size
and colour very variable, but usually with a characteristic
greenish tinge. Turns black with age and qickly with handling.
Now divided into several species by DNA analysis.
conica var. conicoides. Appearance
very similar to H conica on left but not blackening
as much. This one from Askam Lots, not Birkrigg. I find
these on the Duddon reserves in July - much earlier than
the H. conica Birkrigg species.
Waxcap H. ceracia. Deep yellow 1.5 -
3 cm cap, pale gills decurrent, thin dry-ish stem (<3
mm). H insipida has a moist stem when fresh.
Waxcap H quieta 1.5 cm cap short thick
(0.5 cm) stem orange esp. towards top, slightly decurrent
gills orange. Cap slightly greasy, stem dry. Slight smell
of cloves (bugs?) if anything.
Waxcap H aurantiosplendens Cap 5 cm
viscid bicoloured. Paler gills narrowly adnate, stems
sulphur yellow and orange-yellow and fibrillose. An old
punicea could look similar but generally dry,
more yellow with crimson patches, and distorted by that
stage. Nationally scarce species; spore examination needed
for full identification..
acutoconica (formerly persistens). Distinctive
cap shape, can and did appear in August (Boertmann records
it as usually the first waxcap of the season).
for the what I call the "L'al red 'uns"
(being a Lancastrian). These are the small (<
25 mm) variable species that can be red, orange, yellow
or a mixture of all three! Identifications are speculative
as full determination requires spore examination.
Vermilion Waxcap H miniata There
is also the rare H calciphila found only on calcareous
habitats, which appears identical and can only be distinguised
by spore shape. Fresh 0.5 to 1.2 cm, gills broadly adnate
almost decurrent. Dries quickly to yellow when picked.
insipida moist cap 1.5 cm crenallated edge, orange/yellow
or yellow (more orange when young), gills pale yellow
with characteristic white edge, stem slightly moist (dried?)
with characteristic orange belt below gills.
mucronella. Small red species (2 cm cap) but microscopic
examination needed. It should taste bitter if it is mucronella,
but may be an insipida that has
the same site are several of the "finger" fungi
and earth tongues, which are also indicator species of ancient
grassland. Very careful searching in the grass is needed on
limestone as you are looking for something that can be between
a 1p and 50p coin in size! Spore examination is needed for
final identification but from the left they are probably Yellow
Club, Apricot Club, White Spindles and a black Geoglossum,
probably Hairy Earth Tongue.
coral fungi are only slightly more obvious but still difficult
to find. Rosso Coral Ramaria botrytis
is nationally rare (only three previous records in Cumbria),
but much more abundant and visible is the yellow Meadow
Coral. The third is possibly another scarce species
the Biege Coral, Clavulinopsis umbrinella.
are also examples of puffballs and earthballs. These species
release clouds of spores through holes in the cap.There are
many closely related species that are difficult to identify:-
interesting small species typical of calcareous grassland
are Earth Powdercap Cistoderma amianthinum,
the Peppery Roundcap Stropharia
pseudocyanea (with a strong peppery smell distinguishing
it from S. caerulea and, again, known only from
two or three sites in Cumbria) and (possibly) another
members of the Pink-gill family (Entoloma) but
these are hard to identify:-
species more usually found in woodland can also be found on
grassland. Wood Blewit Lepista nuda
and Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis,
the latter growing in a 29 ft ring with over 180 specimens
- another ring near the summit was over 80 ft in diameter!