Fabulous Fungi!

Fabulous Fungi!

Viv Geen

Although I am passionate about plants in all their shapes, colours and perfumes, there is another taxonomic group that displays a similar diversity; the fungi.

They too exist in many different shapes, colours and perfumes or odours.  This is particularly true of waxcap fungi.

Waxcap fungi, are the jewels of the fungi world and are found in many different colours; pink, red, orange, yellow and green.  There are about 40 species of waxcap in the UK; being the home of half the world’s population of this species.  Waxcaps were once common in our meadows, but do not tolerate the use of chemical fertilisers, therefore their presence is an indication of high quality unimproved grassland habitat

Waxcaps are good biological indicators because they are affected by many factors including chemical input, air pollution, and habitat change including the growth of tall vegetation (a change in grazing regime), and the invasion of woody species.

They are thought to exist in grassland that is low in phosphates and sulphur and contains moss.  The species of waxcaps you encounter will depend on the habitat in which they are growing; some species are not found on neutral grasslands or meadows, but prefer acidic soils and are found on heathland; such as the Heath Waxcap (Gliophorus laetus), and the Vermillion Waxcap.  Churchyards and domestic lawns are very often important sites for grassland fungi because of the grass cutting regime employed on these sites.

Vermillion waxcap by Viv Geen

Viv Geen

Vermillion waxcap (Hygrocybe miniata)

How do I identify waxcaps?

They are usually brightly coloured (but not always) and scattered throughout the grassland.  The caps of the fungi are often slimy when wetted which gives them a slimy appearance.   The gills are well-spaced and waxy.   Many species are difficult to identify in the field, and a microscope is required along with other processes to identify some species.  Here are some of the species you may find:

Parrot Waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus)  by Viv Geen

Viv Geen

Parrot Waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus)  

Snowy Waxcap (Cuphophyllus virgineus) by Viv Geen

Viv Geen

Snowy Waxcap (Cuphophyllus virgineus)

These species are pioneer species and are usually the first species to be recorded in a meadow.  The Parrot wax cap is so called because it can be many different colours, but it is always very slimy.  There are several sub-species of Snowy Waxcap.  Be careful not to confuse with another similar white waxcap called the Cedarwood Waxcap (Hygrocybe russocoriacea) which has a distinctive smell of wood chippings or Russian leather as its species names suggests.

Meadow waxcap by Viv Green

Viv Geen

Meadow Waxcap (Cuphophyllus pratensis)            

Golden waxcap by Viv Geen

Viv Geen

Golden Waxcap (Hygrocybe chlorophana)

Pink or Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calyptryformis)

Viv Geen

Pink or Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calyptryformis) - this species is uncommon and is so called because of the tutu-like cap that develops with age.

Open Pink or Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calyptryformis) by Viv Geen

Viv Geen

An 'open' Pink or Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calyptryformis)

Management for waxcap fungi

The main requirements for wax caps: 

  • Short grazed grass sward
  • Low nutrient soil
  • No added fertilisers or other chemicals
  • No tall or shrubby vegetation
  • Un-disturbed soil (which is not ploughed, or harrowed on a regular  basis).

If you have an unimproved meadow; look for grassland fungi in the autumn before the first frosts, although; in wet summers waxcaps can appear earlier in the season, and different species of waxcap may be recorded from year to year.  The decline of unimproved grassland in the UK and the subsequent decline of waxcaps has increased their value, and a good collection of different species can lead designation of a meadow as a Local Wildlife Site or Nationally important SSSI depending on the species assemblage. 

Waxcap assessment of Rald (1985) as adapted by Vesterholt et al (1999)
Conservation Value                   Hygrocybe spp. in one visit Total no. of Hygrocybe spp
Internationally important 15+ (?)                                                         22+
Nationally important                              11-14                                                               17-21
Regionally important                              6-10                                                                 9-16
Locally important 3-5                                                                    4-8
Of no importance                                    1-2                                                                    1-3


Get involved!

If you know of grassland in Gwent with waxcaps please contact me (Viv) at Gwent Wildlife Trust email: vgeen@gwentwildlife.org

Other useful contacts

South East Wales Biological Recording Centre   www.sewbrec.org.uk 

Gwent Fungi Group  www.gwentfungi.org.uk
Monmouth Meadows Group have produced two editions of their excellent Grassland Fungi guide  by Elsa Wood and Jon Dunkleman. https://monmouthshiremeadows.org.uk


Cover of grassland fungi

Viv Geen

Grassland Fungi guide by Elsa Wood and Jon Dunkleman.