Hygrocybe coccinea (Schaeff.) P.Kumm.   
'Scarlet Waxcap'

Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basidiomycota
Order: Agaricales

British distribution: Widespread and locally frequent.
World distribution: Europe, ?North America, ?Japan.

Hygrocybe coccinea in turf
Hygrocybe coccinea in upland turf, Muirshiel, Renfrewshire, October 2004.

Hygrocybe coccinea, studio shot
Hygrocybe coccinea, Muirshiel, Renfrewshire, 2000.
A collection showing variable gill attachment and in some respects approaching H. splendidissima.

The blood-red cap makes Hygrocybe coccinea one of our more striking waxcap fungi. It is a species of old, 'unimproved' turf and pastures and long established lawns, a component of waxcap grasslands.

Identification and variation
There are many bright red Hygrocybe species and, while H. coccinea is normally identifiable in the field, and is included in many popular field guides, reference to a specialist publication, such as Arnolds (1990), Boertmann (1996) or Bon (1990), and checking of microscopical characters are always recommended.

The cap is persistently bright to blood-red, not (or only very rarely) orange-red when young, and the gills also change from yellow to red as the fruitbody matures. The cap may be up to 5 or 6 cm across but commonly is much smaller, convex to flattened, smooth and with a moist texture. (Rarely, the cap is more conical or has a distinct central umbo, this being the ?non-British var. umbonata, well illustrated in Candusso, 1997). Characteristically the gills are broadly attached to the stem (broadly adnate) but this is always a variable character in waxcaps and the photograph shows an example with only narrowly adnate gills (but note also the example at the far left where the gills can be seen to be broadly attached). The stem is usually cylindrical, becoming flattened and channelled only in larger fruit bodies, dry, coloured like the cap or more orange or yellow, especially towards the base where it is hidden amongst the grass. Typically the first field impression is of a completely blood-red waxcap, usually clustered in the turf.

Amongst other deep red species with umbonate caps are:
H. punicea, generally a much larger and more robust species with a distinctly umbonate cap and strongly fibrillose stem, and in which the cap colour is quickly lost so that large parts of the cap are pallid and 'unhealthy' in appearance;
H. splendidissima, a well-named but rare species that is generally intermediate between H. punicea and H. coccinea, resembling the former in size and habit but with a smooth, not fibrillose stem and with the cap colour much more persistent. From H. coccinea it generally differs in the free to narrowly attached gills, larger size, umbonate cap and tending to be cherry red rather than blood red. As noted above, gill attachment is variable within single populations of H. coccinea, though a character used in keys, and attention to microscopical characters is sometimes needed to separate these two species.

The occurrence of H. coccinea outside Europe is somewhat equivocal. Arnolds (op. cit.) accepts it as occuring in North America but Boertmann (op. cit.) casts doubt on this, pointing out that the photograph in Hesler and Smith (1963) seems to be a different species. It is included in several North American field guides but a review of those in my own possession suggests again that other fungi are being illustrated or photographed under this name. It is not unusual to find that European and American concepts differ, even though the same name is used. However, while the monochrome photograph within the text of Hesler and Smith does indeed look like something else, the colour photograph on the front cover of the same work does look very like H. coccinea var. umbonata. Some USA Internet pictures also look right.

•   Arnolds, E.J.M., (1990). Hygrocybeae, in Bas, C., et al. (eds.), Flora agaricina Neerlandica, 2, A.A.Balkema, Rotterdam, pp.70-133.
•   Boertmann, D. (1996). The genus Hygrocybe. Fungi of Northern Europe vol. 1, Danish Mycological Society.
•   Bon, M. (1990). Flore mycologique d'Europe. 1. Les hygrophores. Documents Mycologiques Mémoire hors série 1, Hygrophoraceae Lotsy, L'Association d'Ecologie et de Mycologie, Lille.
•   Candusso, M. (1997). Hygrophorus s.l., Fungi Europaei 6, Libreria Basso, Alassio.
•   Hesler, L.R., & Smith, A.H. (1963). North American species of Hygrophorus, University of Tennessee Press, Kingsport.

© A.J. Silverside
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