Mushroom of the Month, Hygrocybe ‘conica’ (witch’s waxy cap)

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by Danny Miller

Just in time for Hallowe’en but a day early for the November mushroom of the month, we have the classic Hallowe’en mushroom – Hygrocybe ‘conica’, the witch’s hat. I thought it would be fun to follow up last month’s colourful Leptonias with my other favourite group of colourful mushrooms., the waxy caps. Just like in Leptonia, there is something extra magical about these colourful little beauties. Not only do different species come in different bright colours like red, orange, yellow, pink, green and blue, but the texture is often like a fake mushroom made out of wax. And you will soon have success if go looking for them, as they can be very common and are much easier to find than Leptonia.

Of the dozens of common colourful waxy caps around here, I want to talk in particular about Hygrocybe ‘conica’ (perhaps more accurately called Hygrocybe singeri). Not only is it a bright red-orange-yellow that looks like it is made of wax, it is the only one that will turn black after it is touched. Wait long enough, and it might turn entirely black! Plus, it has one of the most sharply pointed caps, like a witch’s hat. This definitely qualifies it for the nickname of Hallowe’en mushroom. And when are you most likely to find it? You guessed it… right around Hallowe’en!

The waxy caps are an amazing group of mushrooms. This super-family constitutes one of the major groups of gilled mushrooms, but it is not always easy to recognize mushrooms in this major group, as not all of them have evolved to look colourful and waxy. Many boring mushrooms are somewhat related. But you might want to take some time to learn some of the other beautiful waxy mushrooms in this group on the waxy cap page of my pictorial key:  Waxy Caps-Hygrophoraceae

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There is a green one (Hygrocybe psittacina) that can turn back and forth between green and orange depending on its moisture content (see photo). Several have purple colours, including Hygrophorus erubescens and H. purpurascens. One very common one found on wood has purple gills when young (Chromosera cyanophylla). Perhaps someday you’ll find the rare powder blue Hygrophorus caeruleus (see photo). Several more have interesting odors like almond latte syrup or mothballs (wait for scratch and sniff web pages and then check back with me). This is an especially fun group of species to get to know, and an especially interesting pictorial key page to browse.

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Below are a few more photos of Hygrocybe conica curtesy of Paul Hill.

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