Hygrocybe laeta (Pers.: Fr.) P.Kumm.    
   (= Gliophorus laetus (Pers.: Fr.) Herink.)   
Heath Waxcap

Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basidiomycota
Order: Agaricales

British distribution: Throughout Britain.
World distribution: Europe, Asia, North America.

Hygrocybe laeta
Hygrocybe laeta in base-poor, upland pasture, by Loch Thom, Renfrewshire, October 2001.
Hygrocybe laeta
Hygrocybe laeta from Balloch, Dumbartonshire, 1980.

Hygrocybe laeta is often a common waxcap and occurs with other species of the genus in waxcap grasslands, generally in 'unimproved' pastures that have not been reseeded or subjected to chemical fertilisers, but it is to be found in the damper and marginal areas of such sites where the soil is somewhat peaty and base-poor. It shows a slight preference for upland sites. H. cantharellus is a frequent associate.

Identification and variation
H. laeta is notable for its extremely slimy cap and stem, making it difficult to keep hold of when it is collected. The cap is typically dull orange to pinkish- or orange-brown, the stem relatively long, similarly coloured but paler, often tinged grey at the apex, the gills decurrent, initially grey then taking on the colours of the cap and stem. Importantly, the mucilage continues as glistening lines along the gill edges, visible with a hand-lens and easily seen under a dissecting microscope. It is said to have a smell of burnt rubber though I have not noticed this. It is included in many popular guides to the larger fungi and is well depicted and described by Boertmann (2010).

The species is most likely to be confused with the brown and pinkish variants (vars. perplexa and sciophanoides) of H. psittacina. From these it differs at least in the mucilaginous gill edges. Otherwise they can appear very similar, though the gills of H. psittacina should be ascending and narrowly attached to the stem, not decurrent. The colour of the stem apex would normally also provide separation, but there are traps here. The stem apex of H. psittacina is typically green, that of H. laeta typically grey. However the green colour is missing in H. psittacina vars. perplexa and sciophanoides, while according to Boertmann (op.cit.), the stem apex of H. laeta is rarely bright violet or dark olive.
It is also vital when examining colours in these species that daylight or a bench lamp equipped with a blue bulb (as sold in arts materials shops) is used. Under fluorescent lights, the grey stem apex of H. laeta can appear strongly green!

In addition to the variation in H. laeta described above, there is also a yellow variant, var. flava, named and depicted by Boertmann. It is known in Britain but is uncommon. The cap and stem are yellow, the gills whitish to yellow, but in other features much like typical H. laeta. Boertmann considers it northern and arctic-alpine, but existing British records (FRDBI) do not support this. I have seen it in hill turf in company with the typical form and also in lowland, riverside woodland with other waxcaps. Further variants of H. laeta are described by Bon (1990).

A small, bright yellow species, H. vitellina, also has shining, viscid edges to the gills and could be confused with H. laeta var. flava. It differs in its relatively broader spores and lack of a gelatinised subhymenium (again see Boertmann, op.cit., also Candusso, 1997). Generally it is a more delicate fungus.

•   Boertmann, D. (2010). The genus Hygrocybe, 2nd revised edition. 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.

© A.J. Silverside
Uploaded May 2014
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