Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Agaricales - Family: Hygrophoraceae
A waxcap of pine forests and mixed pine and broadleaf woodland, Hygrophorus hypothejus is a late-season species. It has a bright yellow stem and a distinct ring zone, and so you might expect to spot this mushroom without any difficulty; but looking down on caps that are various shades of brown and olive against a background of dead leaves and pine needles they are all too easy to miss. The trick is to stand still and look carefully at a smallish area of the forest floor before moving on and trying another.
Once you have found one Herald of Winter, the rest of the gang seem to throw off their camouflage and surrender without too much of a struggle. This is one of those mushrooms that favour the compacted earth beside forest walks, and so wandering off the beaten track is rarely an advantage. This woodwax is always associated with pine trees.
Hygrophorus hypothejus is fairly common throughout Britain and Ireland. On mainland Europe the Herald of Winter is common in Scandinavia but it seems to be much less so in central and southern European countries. This species is also common in many parts of North America.
The basionym of this species was established in 1818, when the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries described the Herald of Winter woodwax mushroom scientifically and named it Agaricus hypothejus
It was also Fries who, in 1838, renamed this woodwax mushroom Hygrophorus hypothejus, which is the scientific name by which mycologists generally refer to it today.
Synonyms of Hygrophorus hypothejus include Agaricus hypothejus Fr., Hygrophorus hypothejus var. hypothejus (Fr.) Fr., Hygrophorus aureus Arrh., Hygrophorus hypothejus var. expallens Boud., and Hygrophorus hypothejus var. aureus (Arrh.) Imler.
Hygrophorus, the genus name, comes from hygro- meaning moisture, and -phorus meaning bearer; not only do these fungi contain a lot of water (as do most other mushrooms, of course) but they are also moist and sticky to touch.
The specific epithet hypothejus comes from hypo- meaning under or beneath, and -thejus meaning 'like sulphur or brimstone'... and sure enough if you look beneath the cap you find that the gills and stem are a sulphur-yellow colour (or a sulfur-yellow color as it should be written in America).
Various shades of olive brown, the margin paler and more yellow than the central region; convex, flattening, sometimes centrally depressed; slimy when wet; the margin is sometimes wavy at maturity; 3 to 6cm across.
Pale yellow, turning browner with age; distant; adnate or decurrent.
Pale yellow, sometimes tinged with orange; cylindrical; 4 to 7cm long, 0.7 to 1.4cm diameter.
Ellipsoidal, smooth, 8-9.5 x 3.5-5.5µm.
Habitat & Ecological role
Ectomycorrhizal, found under two- and three-needle pine trees, often beside forest tracks or paths.
August to December (often fruiting after the first of the winter frosts) in Britain and Ireland.
The Date Waxcap, Hygrocybe spadicea, is a rare grassland mushroom with a dark brownish cap.
This uncommon to rare woodland mushroom is reported to be edible, but because of its relative rarity it is not generally gathered for its culinary value. We have no recipes for this species.
Fascinated by Fungi, 2nd Edition, Pat O'Reilly 2016, reprinted by Coch-y-bonddu Books in 2022.
Funga Nordica: 2nd edition 2012. Edited by Knudsen, H. & Vesterholt, J. ISBN 9788798396130
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.
This page includes pictures kindly contributed by David Kelly.
Fascinated by Fungi. Back by popular demand, Pat O'Reilly's best-selling 450-page hardback book is available now. The latest second edition was republished with a sparkling new cover design in September 2022 by Coch-y-Bonddu Books. Full details and copies are available from the publisher's online bookshop...