Color In The Dark Of Winter

Waxcaps In Seattle City Parks

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Hygrocybe aurantiosplendens

by Paul A. Hill

In the dark days of winter, I’m still thinking of mushrooms, but sometimes they are hard to find.  Luckily in January, I often start seeing Waxcaps in my local wooded city parks. I believe there are at least three species I have spotted over the years in Seward Park on Lake Washington in SE Seattle.  All of the following photos were taken in 2017.  A note on usage, Waxy Caps or Waxcaps are both names used for several related genera in Hygrophoraceae family.  Above is a picture of the common red Hygrocybe with lots of yellow, but little, if any white.  I identify it as H. aurantiosplendens, generally because of the colors and size.

The following photo is of a ragged H. aurantiosplendens showing the orange-red gills.  In January, I often come across these orange-red Hygrocybe which have become tattered.  It appears the mice and slugs in the park nibble on them through the winter.  Since these Hygrocybe seem to be the first ones up in January and there are not very many of them, they seem to suffer more nibbles then those which come up in larger numbers later in the winter.

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Hygrocybe aurantiosplendens, this specimen has seen better days.

With patience and searching through the dark winter months, this reddish-orange with yellow waxcap is not the only Hygrocybe species that I find in Seattle.  Seward Park also has a much more yellow waxcap.  It appears from January well into May but comes up later than H. aurantiosplendens.  It provides bright spots of yellow during the damp months of late winter and into spring.  I have seen areas scattered with a hundred of these in Seward Park.  An all yellow Hygrocybe, (but can have a blush of orange, on it) is commonly identified as H. flavescens.  The most common ones I find in Seattle always have a blush of orange on the cap and the stem.  Apparently, some authors separate out from H. flavescens the species H. clorophana which is said to have a viscid stipe and a more orange cap.  The book “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast” thinks that H. clorophana is within the range of characteristics for H. flavescens. I rarely see all-yellow specimens in the areas I look for Hygrocybes, but the orange blush does vary greatly.

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Hygrocybe flavescens.

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A splash of color amongst the sodden greens and browns of our winter woodlands.

I find yet another Hygrocybe species, also in Seward Park.  It has a much redder cap, but is it different than the orange and yellow H. aurantiosplendens (see first photo). I identify it as Hygrocybe miniata, because of the broadly attached gills and the bright red cap (pictured below).

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Hygrocybe miniata, the “Crimson Waxcap.”

An all-red waxcap that I haven’t seen too often is Hygrocybe coccinea, but I believe this is one in the photograph below taken sometime in January 2017.  This darker all red Waxcap which is commonly called the “Scarlet Waxy Cap” while the smaller Hygrocybe miniata with thicker broadly attached gills is commonly called the “Crimson Waxcap.”

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Hygrocybe coccinea, the “Scarlet Waxcap.”

To complete the story of the Waxcaps (Hygrocybes) I find around Seattle, we can’t forget the Witches Hat.  As appropriate to its name, it is a fall mushroom which I often see around Halloween.  Here are a couple of photographs from a different southeast Seattle park.  The mushrooms from right to left in this photo show Hygrocybe singeri in various stages of turning black, likely a difference in age of a week or two.  Unlike Psilocybe or various Boletes which turn blue when cut or bruised, H. singeri turns black simply with age.

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Hygrocybe singeri, the “Western Witches Cap.”

This last photo shows several unpicked and uncut H. singeri turning black simply standing in the grass.  Apparently, there may be more than one species going under the name H. singeri, the “Western Witches Cap” including ones with redder caps and more orange in the stipe, but in Seattle, I seem to see the mostly orange and yellow caps with the yellow stems.

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H. singeri darkens with age.

The winter may be the low season for mushrooms, but there are some lovely colors to be found even in our local city parks, so don’t forget to keep your eyes open as you stroll through during the winter rains.