Hygrocybe calyptriformis (Berk. & Broome) Fayod   
'Ballerina Waxcap'

Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basidiomycota
Order: Agaricales

British distribution: Widespread but uncommon.   (UKBAP species, "Low Risk")
World distribution: Europe, Asia, North America.

Hygrocybe calyptriformis, in pasture
Hygrocybe calyptriformis, upland pasture, Muirshiel, Renfrewshire, 2004. (See discussion below of "var. domingensis".)

Hygrocybe calyptriformis, studio shot
Hygrocybe calyptriformis, from old lawn in parkland, Paisley, Renfrewshire, 2000.

Hygrocybe calyptriformis, the Ballerina or Pink Waxcap, is one of the more uncommon but most distinctive of the waxcap fungi and a characteristic species of waxcap grasslands. Like most waxcaps it is a species of ancient, 'unimproved' pastures that have not been reseeded or subjected to chemical fertilisers, though it is also a species of old lawns. It is currently the subject of a national Biodiversity Action Plan, perhaps more as an easily identifiable indicator species of waxcap grasslands than as a rarity in itself.

Identification and variation
Hygrocybe calyptriformis, when fresh, is usually easily identifiable. It is a non-blackening species with a conical cap, and within this group, it is the only British species that is pure coral pink to lilac-pink in colour. As it matures the margin of the cap spreads outwards, giving the resemblance to a ballerina's skirt. The whole fungus has a tall and elegant appearance and when present in quantity, as it may be on ancient lawns, it is a remarkable and unmistakable sight.

Old specimens can lose much of their colour and become yellowish and then need more care in their separation from similarly old and faded fruitbodies of the H. persistens complex. It should also be noted that H. psittacina may rarely be pink - such an individual, but showing green at the top of the stem, is illustrated on the H. psittacina page. The very viscid H. laeta can be pinkish brown.

Although not common, H. calyptriformis is illustrated in many of the popular identification guides.

It shows little variation, though a white form is known, f. nivea (which might easily be confused with white, conical species of Tricholoma). See the scan of Cooke's classic illustration, reproduced below.
The stem is typically white, but sometimes takes the colour of the cap, though paler. The fungus varies too in size, though no taxonomic importance should be attached to this.

A variant with a coloured stem, larger spores and seemingly differing cap cuticle (lacking a "true ixocutis") has been distinguished as var. domingensis, based on a single collection from the Dominican Republic, but with another collection from the USA and one from southern England (Cantrell & Lodge, 2000). Since the cap cuticle of the English collection was said to match that of normal European var. calyptriformis and since colour in the stem is a variable character, it would seem that more knowledge is needed on spore size variation in this species before it can be clear whether var. domingensis deserves its current acceptance as British, or indeed is generally worthy of taxonomic recognition.
Spore measurements from the Muirshiel population, illustrated above, show a greater size range than generally acknowledged for this species and encompass the range given for "domingensis". The larger spores would seem to derive from 2- and 3-spored basidia and should not be given undue taxonomic importance.

Hygrocybe calyptriformis, typical variant,
from M.C.Cooke (1881-91), Illustrations of the British Fungi (Hymenomycetes), plate 916 (894).

Hygrocybe calyptriformis forma nivea,
from M.C.Cooke (1881-91), Illustrations of the British Fungi (Hymenomycetes), plate 917 (923).

Cantrell, S.A., & Lodge, D.J. (2000). Hygrophoraceae of the Greater Antilles: Hygrocybe subgenus Hygrocybe. Mycological Research 104: 873-878.

Biodiversity Action Plan link
(last verified 14.11.2009)

© A.J. Silverside
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