Hygrocybe psittacina (Schaeff.: Fr.) P.Kumm.   
   (= Gliophorus psittacinus (Schaeff.: Fr.) Herink.)   
'Parrot Waxcap'

Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basidiomycota
Order: Agaricales

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

Hygrocybe psittacina, typical yellow/green variants
Hygrocybe psittacina in range of green and yellow variants, serpentinite grassland, Ayrshire, 1995.

Hygrocybe psittacina, variants with brown colours
H. psittacina from hill pasture near Loch Thom, Renfrewshire, 2001. The fruitbodies with a mixture of green and brown colours appear to be intermediates with var. perplexa, presumably corresponding to a variant mentioned by Boertmann (1996).

Hygrocybe psittacina, green variant
Young specimen of H. psittacina from hill pasture near Queenside Muir, Renfrewshire, 2000.
Hygrocybe psittacina, green variant with view of gills

Hygrocybe psittacina, pink variant
Variant of H. psittacina with pink cap and gills, closely resembling H. laeta but with a non-viscid gill edge. Hill pasture near Loch Thom, Renfrewshire, 2001. Note the green tinge at the stem apex.

Hygrocybe psittacina is notable for its mixture of colours, usually green and yellow (hence 'parrot') and is one of our most common and distinctive waxcap fungi. It is 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 less ecologically restricted than many and is frequent in established lawns. It is also frequent in dune turf and can occur by paths in open woodland.

Identification and variation
Amongst British and European waxcaps the clear green colour is more or less diagnostic. Even when the cap is wholly yellow, there normally is green coloration at the apex of the stem. The fungus is also highly viscid, both stem and cap, to the extent that it is difficult to collect and hold without it slipping out of the hand. Confusion, if possible at all, would be more likely to be with Entoloma incanum (= Leptonia incana) which has similar green colours and is also a species of waxcap grasslands on lime-rich soils. However, E. incanum is not viscid, it does not have the thick gills and solid, 'waxy' appearance of a Hygrocybe and it has pink spores - which are angular under the microscope.
H. olivaceonigra can also be distinctly green, but this is a rare, conical, blackening member of the H. conica complex. H. conica itself can be a dull greenish, and H. citrinovirens is a yellow species with slight greenish tints, but the cap is acutely conical and dry, not viscid.

Other colour variants of H. psittacina can be more problematic. Rarely it is bright blue and might then be confused with certain, rare Entoloma species, but its viscidity and white spore print would separate it from these. When yellow without a trace of green it might resemble H. glutinipes, but the latter is typically a brighter, purer yellow and has a very different structure to the gill tissues (much longer, non-inflated elements in the hymenophoral trama) under the microscope - reference to specialist literature such as Boertmann (2010) or Bon (1990) is needed. (There is also an H. ortoniana, which is "H. glutinipes" in the sense of several authors, and which does have a hymenophoral trama similar to H. psittacina but apparently differs macroscopically in being bright to orange yellow - these yellow waxcaps are rarely easy!).

Generally, however, the species that is most easily confused with H. psittacina is the closely related H. laeta. This is usually pinkish brown, grey at the stem apex, and lacks the green colours of H. psittacina, but flesh-coloured variants of the two species can look identical. The upland, flesh-coloured variant of H. psittacina, lacking any green on the stem, has been separated in the past as H. sciophanoides and Boertmann (2010) has given this varietal rank, as H. psittacina var. sciophanoides. As shown in the photograph above, intermediates exist.

Very rarely in Britain there is also a wholly yellow variant of H. laeta, var. lutea, which in the field again looks exactly like a yellow H. psittacina. The gills of H. laeta are pale and strongly decurrent, but the best macroscopic distinction, when needed, is that the gills of H. laeta have distinct, viscid, colourless edges, easily seen with a lens. (Also seen in H. vitellina, but this is a much more delicate, bright yellow species that should not be confused with H. psittacina or H. laeta.)
It is 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!

Finally, a wholly brick-red to red-brown variant of H. psittacina should be mentioned. This is usually regarded as a separate species, H. perplexa (= H. sciophana), but Boertmann considers it to be another colour form of H. psittacina, as H. psittacina var. perplexa. See above photograph of intermediate form.)

Legal note
A number of fungal species contain the psychoactive compound psilocin, and Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe semilanceata) have a history of recreational use. Recent legislation (Drugs Act 2005, Section 21) renders possession even of fresh material of any such fungus illegal, irrespective of the amount of psilocin the fungus might contain. Although the Drugs Act 2005 applies for the most part to England and Wales only, Section 24 subsection 7 has the effect of extending the legislation cited to Scotland.

Current advice is that temporary handling of such material for purposes of identification is considered a reasonable defence, provided that the material is soon discarded, but the scientifically required preservation of voucher material to support research is illegal – the criminalisation of possession of one or two dried fruitbodies of a species in which some hundreds may be required for psychoactive effect is deemed more important than scholarship or the United Kingdom’s international obligation to foster knowledge in and conserve biodiversity. It appears that it may be considered acceptable to briefly hold material that is to be transferred to an institution (e.g. the herbaria of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh or Kew) that is licensed to hold such material, but that is the limit of what is considered reasonable.

It will be noted that studio photographs shown above were taken at a time when common sense prevailed.

•   Boertmann, D. (1996). The genus Hygrocybe. Fungi of Northern Europe vol. 1, Danish Mycological Society.
•   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.

© A.J. Silverside
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