Species of the Month - October 2016

Blackening Waxcap

Hygrocybe conica

October is the peak season for waxcaps, specialist fungi of unfertilised grasslands in which LNHG has a particular interest.  Blackening Waxcap is one of the commonest species, with a wider habitat range than most of the others.  As well as grasslands it can occur in dunes, marshes, bogs, woods, heaths and riverbanks (Boertmann 1995).  It turns black with age or when damaged or bruised, which makes it easy to distinguish from other kinds of waxcap.

Hygrocybe conica   Hygrocybe conica

When fresh it has a conical cap with radial fibres, rather sticky at first but soon dry.  The colours are usually yellow, orange, red, or some mix of these.  The stem is yellow or orange and beautifully translucent when young, smooth with vertical veins.  The gills are whitish at first, becoming yellow or orange.  They curve up before reaching the stem and often stop short of reaching it at all, an unusual feature in a waxcap.  Most other waxcaps with the gills ascending still have them firmly attached to the stem.

Hygrocybe conica

If found before it has begun to blacken, it could be mistaken for the Persistent Waxcap (H persistens or H autoconica) but the Blackening Waxcap can always be made to blacken by bruising it and then waiting a while.

Hygrocybe conica

This one has begun to turn black on the stem and at the top of the cap.  The stem becomes more fibrous with age.

Hygrocybe conica


Hygrocybe conica   Hygrocybe conica

More waxcaps in the process of blackening.  The cap often turns brown before it turns black.

Hygrocybe conica   Hygrocybe conica

Finally one with the whole cap black, and another that has turned black completely.

The Blackening Waxcap is very variable, with a number of forms associated with different habitats.  In the past it was split into 2 or 3 different species, so if you have an old mushroom book it may show more than one waxcap as turning black.  However the current authorities regard all these as forms of a single species, Hygrocybe conica.

This situation is too good to last, and it is likely that DNA testing will result in the species being split again, so make the most if it while you can!  If you take photos of your waxcap and note its habitat then it may well be possible to attribute your record to one of the post-split species when these are finalised.  If not, the record is still of value as H conica counts along with all other waxcaps in assessing the conservation value of grasslands.

Please send in
your Blackening 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 fungus, please send a photo to sightings@lnhg.org.uk, or put one on the LNHG Facebook page.

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

Oct 4: Found by Jan at Cuil Bay

Oct 5: Found by Cynthia in St Johns Churchyard, Ballachulish

Oct 23: Found by Cynthia on LNHG Waxcap Wander at Balindore

Nov 2: Found by me at Glencoe

Nov 5: Found by Jan on LNHG field trip at Kilcheran, Lismore

Note you can still send in records for past species of the month.  Here are the previous October species:

Oct 2014 - Crimson Waxcap
Oct 2013 - Ballerina Waxcap
Oct 2012 - Dryad's Saddle
Oct 2011 - Small Tortoiseshell

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This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage

All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer except where stated.  The last 6 photos on this page are copyright Jan Hamilton.
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