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Hygrocybe ovina (Bull.) Kuhner - Blushing Waxcap

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Agaricales - Family: Hygrophoraceae

Hygrocybe ovina - Blushing Waxcap

Many of the colourful waxcap mushroom species can be tricky to identify, but with its dry blackish cap, pink-bruising gills and smooth stem, this nitrous-scented waxcap is one of the most distinctive. Unfortunately, because of its scarcity in Britain and Ireland few people get the opportunity to become familiar with the Blushing Waxcap.

Distribution

The Blushing Waxcap is a very rare find in Britain and Ireland. This species occurs also in most European countries but it is either uncommon or rare throughout this range. In Canada and parts of the USA, Hygrocybe ovina is an occasional find in some mixed woodlands.

Taxonomic history

When pioneering French mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois Pierre Bulliard described this waxcap mushroom scientifically in 1793 he gave it the name Agaricus ovinus. (At that time most gilled fungi were initially placed into the genus Agaricus, since cut down to a more manageable proportions by redistribution of most of its contents to other genera, including Hygrocybe.) It was German mycologist Robert Kuhner (1903 - 1996) who, in 1926, transferred this species to the genus Hygrocybe, establishing its current scientific name Hygrocybe ovina.

Hygrocybe ovina has several synonyms including Agaricus ovinus Bull., Hygrophorus ovinus (Bull.) Fr., Camarophyllus ovinus (Bull.) P. Kumm., Neohygrocybe ovina (Bull.) Herink, Hygrophorus nitiosus A. Blytt, and Hygrocybe nitiosa (A. Blytt) M.M. Moser.

Etymology

The genus Hygrocybe is so named because fungi in this group are nearly always very moist (although Hygrocybe ovina is one of the few exceptions). Hygrocybe means 'watery head'. The specific epithet ovinus is a Latin adjective relating to sheep, indicating that this waxcap mushroom can be found in places where sheep graze.

Identification guide

 

Cap

The dry dark grey-brown to blackish cap is at first hemispherical or campanulate with an inrolled margin and then becomes irregularly conical or broadly convex, usually 2 to 9cm in diameter, becoming cracked, pitted or squamulose. The cap flesh is thin and reddish-orange.

 

Gills

Sepia grey to grey brown but usually significantly paler than the cap surface, the dry, broad and thick gills are adnexed and moderately spaced.

Stem

Concolorous with the cap or somewhat paler, the smooth dry stipe is usually hollow, furrowed and laterally compressed, fusiform or with a clavate base, 0.7-2.5cm in diameter and 3-12cm long; no stem ring; stem flesh slightly paler than the surface, blushing reddish when cut.

 

Spores

Ellipsoidal to sublacrymoid, smooth, 7.5-9 x 5-6μm; inamyloid.

Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Odour slightly nitrous, and old fruitbodies may smell unpleasant; taste not distinctive.

Habitat & Ecological role

In unimproved grassland including lawns and churchyards where artificial fertilisers are not spread; also sometimes among Heather Calluna vulgaris on acidic heathland.

Waxcaps have long been considered to be saprobic on the dead roots of grasses and other grassland plants, but it is now considered likely that there is some kind of mutual relationship between waxcaps and mosses.

Season

July to October in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

Hygrocybe conica turns black with age or when cut; its stem does not turn red when cut or bruised.

Culinary Notes

The Blushing Waxcap is rare and should not be collected other than for scientific study.

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

Fungi of Northern Europe, Volume 1 - The Genus Hygrocybe, David Boertmann, 2010.

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

Acknowledgements

This page includes pictures kindly contributed by Tony Raw.

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