Welcome back to creepy fungus month! I’m starting off this month with a mushroom that has a creepy name but is always fun to find: The Witch’s Hat. Hygrocybe conica gets its common name from the conic shape of its cap, its orange to red color, and its tendency to bruise strongly black. Actually, this last feature is probably the most important; when the mushrooms turn completely black they really do look like tiny hats for witches! The Witch’s Hat grows on the ground in a variety of habitats and mycologists are not sure what its ecological role is.
agaric mushrooms with a waxcap morphology
The gilled mushrooms, informally referred to as ‘agarics,’ are the type of mushroom with which we are most familiar. The most common edible mushrooms (white/button/portabella mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms), Amanita muscaria – the most recognizable mushroom in the world and the inspiration for almost all mushroom art – and the ‘magic mushrooms’ are all gilled mushrooms. All these mushrooms share one feature: vertical plates of spore-producing tissue stacked under a sterile cap.
The waxy caps (alternately called “wax caps” or “waxcaps”) are agaric mushrooms primarily distinguished by their waxy texture, as the name suggests. Actually, the gills are the only part of the mushroom that feels waxy. To fully appreciate the unusual texture, break off a small piece of the gills and roll it between your fingers. It should have a texture reminiscent of soft candle wax.
This is a beautiful little waxy cap that displays one of the most striking color changes of all mushrooms. Gliophorus psittacinus is easily identified by its slimy texture and bright green color that becomes yellow as the mushroom matures. Because the color fades, older specimens are easily confused with the many other yellowish waxy caps. For easy identification of this mushroom, you really need to find young specimens that are still green and slimy. As with other waxy caps, the flesh has a texture reminiscent of candle wax. However, to experience this, one would first have to get past the considerable sliminess of the cap and stipe. Because of its initial bright green color (which one might term “parrot green”), psittacinus is commonly called the “Parrot Mushroom” or “Parrot Waxcap.” Indeed, the root word in its specific epithet means ‘parrot’ in both Latin and Greek.
Note: This is an archived post. You can find the current version of this post here. Welcome back to creepy fungus month! I’m starting off this month with a mushroom that has a creepy name but is always fun to find: The Witch’s Hat. Hygrocybe conica gets its common name from the conic shape of its cap, its orange to red color, and its proclivity for bruising black. The Witch’s Hat is a small mushroom whose cap is 1 to 4cm across (rarely up to 6cm) and whose stipe is 3 to 8cm tall. Young specimens of this mushroom truly are beautiful. The bright, red to orange cap nicely compliments the lighter, orange to yellow stipe. When young, the cap is conical with a curved top and edges that curve slightly inward. The cap opens up as the mushroom matures to become broadly conical to convex, although it retains a...