Species of the Month - October 2014

Crimson Waxcap

Hygrocybe punicea

It's waxcap time again and this year we have an award from the Argyll & The Isles Coast & Countryside Trust to help with our recording of waxcaps and other fungi of unimproved grasslands, a habitat which is fast disappearing across Europe but which is still plentiful in Argyll.

Hygrocybe punicea

The main features to look at in order to identify a waxcap are as follows (in rough order of importance)

  • Is the stem slimy, greasy or dry?*
  • Is the cap slimy, greasy or dry?*
  • Colours of all parts
  • Do the gills go up, down or straight across where they meet the stem?
  • What is the cap surface like - smooth or scurfy?
  • What is the stem surface like - smooth or fibrous?
  • Shape and size of cap
  • Any smell
  • Any other unusual characteristics
  • If still not certain, examine spores under microscope.  The commonest species can be identified before reaching this stage.

*"dry" means not slimy, sticky or greasy.  In wet weather no waxcap will be dry but you can generally tell whether it is merely wet through rain or whether it has a viscid surface.  Equally, after prolonged dry or sunny weather, sticky surfaces can dry out, and the best approach then is to check a young fruitbody which has been sheltered from the sun by an older one above it or by vegetation.

Hygrocybe punicea

Though characteristic of acid grasslands, the one in this photo by Sallie Jack was on the Lismore limestone.

The features listed above apply to the Crimson Waxcap as follows:

  • Stem dry
  • Cap moderately sticky but not covered with a layer of slime
  • Cap crimson or dark red, but rapidly fading.  Stem red, yellow and orange.  Gills deep orange to red.
  • Gills go upwards to meet the stem (they may go down again right at the point where they hit the stem)
  • Cap surface smooth, with no squamules or tufts of hairs sticking up
  • Stem surface very streaky
  • This is the largest waxcap species, the cap can be up to 15 cm in diameter.  5-10 cm is normal.  The cap has a conical shape.
  • No smell
  • No other unusual characters
  • Can normally be identified without examining spores, but they are approx 8.5-10 x 4.5-5.5 mu (Boertmann 1995)

The most important features of the Crimson Waxcap are the large crimson conical cap and the streaky stem.  Coupled with the ascending gills these are enough to identify it.  Possible confusion species are discussed below.

Hygrocybe punicea   Hygrocybe punicea

These pictures show a Crimson Waxcap whose cap colour has bleached out due to weather and age.  It is still easily identified by the rich colours of gills and stem which have been sheltered from the elements by the cap.  The very streaky stem surface and ascending gills leave one in no doubt that this is Hygrocybe punicea.

The most likely confusion species are the Scarlet Waxcap (H coccinea), which is very common in our area, and the Splendid Waxcap (H splendidissima), which is found occasionally.

The Scarlet Waxcap has the red, yellow and orange stem colours blending smoothly into each other without any of the streaky effect of the Crimson Waxcap.  This alone is enough to separate them.  In addition, the Scarlet Waxcap has a rounded (not conical) cap coloured scarlet rather than crimson, and its gills go straight across to meet the stem.

The Splendid Waxcap has similar colours and cap shape to the Crimson Waxcap and its stem is slightly streaky but not as streaky as the Crimson Waxcap stem.  It has a dry cap and smells of honey when drying.  The stem is often compressed or double.  If your specimen has a dry (not sticky or greasy) cap and a slightly streaky stem, it may be the Splendid Waxcap which is an excellent find.  Take a piece home to dry out and see if it smells of honey; the smell is really strong and easy to detect.  If this is absent, you probably have the Crimson Waxcap.

Stems as streaky as those in the pictures above, and the one below, have to be Crimson Waxcap.

Hygrocybe punicea

Jan Hamilton's photo of a Crimson Waxcap shows the very streaky stem and ascending gills of a reddish orange colour.  Note the gill edge is a paler, yellow, colour.

The Crimson Waxcap is regarded as an indicator species for unimproved grasslands.  According to David Boertmann, it is exclusively found in sites with a very long continuity as unfertilised grasslands. (The Genus Hygrocybe, 1995)  It cannot survive if any fertiliser is applied, or if the land use is changed in any of the many other ways that are affecting these grasslands.

Hygrocybe punicea


Hygrocybe punicea   Hygrocybe punicea

Please send in your Crimson Waxcap sightings using the form below, or email sightings@lnhg.org.uk with the details if you prefer.  If you are not sure of the identity of your mushroom, please send a photo to sightings@lnhg.org.uk, or put one on the LORN forum and let me know it is there.

Date of sighting 
Grid reference 
Number seen 
Name of finder 
Your name (if different) 
Email (not needed if I already know it!) 
Any other details, e.g habitat   


By filling in this form you agree that the information contained in this form may be collated and disseminated manually or electronically for environmental decision-making, education, research and other public benefit uses in accordance with the LNHG data access policy.  Your email address will not form part of the record and will not be passed on to anyone.

Carl Farmer
LNHG Biological Records Manager

Sightings so far

12 Oct: Found by me at Musdale

12 Oct: Found by Cynthia on Erraid

13 Oct: Found by Jan at Glen Roy

15 Oct: Plentiful on LNHG Waxcap Wander at Baileouchdarach, Lismore

17 Oct: Found by Cynthia at Glencoe

28 Oct: Found by Jan on our LNHG field trip at Kentallen

2 Nov: Found by Jeremy Gilchrist at Port Ramsay, Lismore

5 Nov: Found by Liz at Killandrist, Lismore

Note you can still send in records for past species of the month.  Here is the list of species we've had so far:

Sep 2014 - Four-spotted Orb Weaver
Aug 2014 - Pale Butterwort
Jul 2014 - Melancholy Thistle
Jun 2014 - Forester Moth
May 2014 - Large Red Damselfly

Apr 2014 - Hedgehog
Mar 2014 - Hairy Bittercress
Feb 2014 - Pale Brindled Beauty
Jan 2014 - Velvet Shank
Dec 2013 - Frilly-fruited Jelly Lichen
Nov 2013 - Whooper Swan
Oct 2013 - Ballerina Waxcap
Sep 2013 - Parrot Waxcap
Aug 2013 - Vapourer Moth

Jul 2013 - Emerald Damselfly
Jun 2013 - Globe Flower
May 2013 - Early Purple Orchid
Apr 2013 - Peacock Butterfly
Mar 2013 - Oak Beauty
Feb 2013 - Coral Lungwort

Jan 2013 - Willow Jelly Button & Birch Jelly Button
Dec 2012 - Dice Lichen
Nov 2012 - Feathered Thorn
Oct 2012 - Dryad's Saddle
Sep 2012 - Tawny Grisette
Aug 2012 - Forest Bug
Jul 2012 - Grayling
Jun 2012 - Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids
May 2012 - Small Copper
Apr 2012 - Green Tiger Beetle
Mar 2012 - March Moth
Feb 2012 - Barren Strawberry
Jan 2012 - Brambling
Dec 2011 - Red Squirrel
Nov 2011 - Hazel Gloves
Oct 2011 - Small Tortoiseshell
Sep 2011 - Fly Agaric
Aug 2011 - Grass of Parnassus
Jul 2011 - Golden-ringed Dragonfly
Jun 2011 - 7-spot Ladybird
May 2011 - Green Hairstreak
Apr 2011 - Townhall Clock

Mar 2011 - Frogspawn

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This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage

All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer except where stated.  This page includes photos Jan Hamilton and Sallie Jack.