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Halloween Special – The Witch’s Hat

This mushroom is one of, if not ‘the‘ most common of all the Waxcaps (known as the Hygrocybes) which I recently discovered on the 30th October. By posting on the first day of November I realise I’ve missed the Halloween deadline (excuse the pun) and I’m sorry. But Halloween ‘is’ the eve of ‘All Saints Day’ – making my error simply forgiven! Or something like that…

Hygrocybe conicaAlthough it has been a relatively bad season for mushrooms and fungi alike due to the dry weather, this last week has proved fruitful, especially in relation to Waxcaps.

Because of the excellent timing, I had to feature the ‘Witch’s Hat’ or ‘Blackening Waxcap’ (Hygrocybe conica) to be my latest post.

As the common and scientific name suggests, the cap of this very common grassland mushroom is ‘conical’ in shape, usually broadly conical or bell-shaped (often irregularly lobed). The texture, common with all Waxcaps, is slimy and waxy and although quite small, is very noticeable in the grass due to it’s bright and striking colours. In this case, the colour can vary somewhat, but mainly you can see yellow/orange (sometimes with scarlet shades) – even hints of green can be present.

But the main feature you will recognise (again, shared with some other Waxcaps), is the ‘blackening’ effect (sounds very seasonal and horrific!). The older the mushroom is – the blacker it will get – although it does not auto-digest and turn to ink like the gills of the Inkcap genus.

Very old specimens turn completely black and appear to be decayed or burnt out. If picked, you will also notice it will bruise black upon handling. But if left alone, the blackening process will slowly take effect, starting mainly from the cap edge (see image above).

Keep a look out this (late) autumn and you may find some along with it’s more colourful friends. It can be found mainly in grassland in fields and woods, but is also common in ornamental lawns, waysides and even plant pots (as my mother discovered!) due to it being less sensitive to nitrogen enriched soil.

It is classed as edible and sometimes as inedible or poisonous from different references. But it is not deadly, and I’m guessing – not very palatable. It’s just best for looking at, which is good because it’s so good looking…

Witches hat

Very common Waxcap, found in field or woodland grass. Bright orange/yellow (sometimes with red or green hues) that blackens with age (see far left).

QUICK ID TABLE: BLACKENING WAXCAP / WITCH’S HAT Hygrocybe conica

CAP / FLESH

3-5.5cm accross. Conical or bell-shaped. Often irregularly lobed. Waxy. Yellow/ Orange colours. Blackens with age.

STEM

3-7 x 0.6-1 cm. Yellow, scarlet flush. Blackening streaks with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed or free. Pale yellow. Waxy.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass in fields or woods. Ornate gardens and plant pots too. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible,but best avoided.

The Genus HYGROCYBE (Waxcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small sized caps brightly coloured in reds, yellows, oranges, greens and whites.
• Caps are often conical or domed and normally greasy or slimy.
• Gills are waxy. Some bruise blackish when damaged.

See Kew gardens conservation news on the British Waxcap family here.

Blue Hats for Winter – The Wood Blewit

This post was inspired by overhearing a conversation at my local pub where they raved on about a local guy who knew where the ‘Blue Legs’ were at! He had bags of them for sale! I naturally assumed they meant ‘Blewits’. Only later I have realised ‘Blue Legs’ are a common name given to ‘Field Blewits’ which are much less common than our Wood Blewits in question, which has the common name of ‘Blue Cap’. Often I have seen people get them mixed up, so this makes you appreciate the relevance of scientific ‘latin’ names. The scientific names make sense overall (even though they tend to change and move around as scientific understanding evolves).

Winter was making itself felt as it’s cold arm stretched across the land. But one lazy Sunday afternoon at the end of November, I dragged myself over to the local mushroom hangouts. Being south side of a major city you’re a little stuck for local woodland. Blaby on the other hand (South Leicester) comes up with the goods. We have a collection of mini public woodland and country byways. They’re all great because at one point or another they eventually end up at the local pub! Or is that my doing?

Anyway. For a casual stroll, I was surprised to come across quite a few lovely specimens. Three of them I’m still not sure about and still checking. But today I came across a solitary ‘Wood Blewit’ (Clitocybe/Lepista nuda). You’ll maybe notice I have filed this post both under ‘Identity Crisis’ AND ‘Woodland Treats’ categories. All the identification characteristics were there: The colour, the presence of a wavy margin and also it being a stand alone species, living on dead organic matter (saprotrophs). When picking them you’ll notice the the woodland floor wants to come with them too! Another tell tale ID sign. As looks can be deceiving, be aware of mistaking it for one of the ‘Webcaps’. A spore print (see how here) can help solve this issue.

See the pics below. I know they’re not of the best quality as I was bloody cold and didn’t have time to get the best results!

Wood Blewit, Blue Leg or Blue Hat

The blue (purple/violet) colours of the Wood Blewit mushroom

In fact, the first time I had taken a spore print of the Blewit, I was very unconvinced about the pale pink (or pale lilac) colour that was to be expected. It seemed to look like a very light brown!

But after some extra professional advice I was comforted in the fact that this was an understandable concern and that Webcaps have a very distinct ‘rust brown colour’ – which is good to know…

(Note: See my other ‘snow covered’ post on the Wood Blewit).