What You Should Know
With its orange color and witch hat shape, Hygrocybe conica is a natural Halloween mushroom. This fungus is common this time of year in coniferous and mixed conifer/hardwood woods. Hygrocybe and Hygrophorus species are reportedly mycorrhizal with both hardwoods and conifers.
The edibility or otherwise of Hygrocybe conica is unclear. Its small size and being coated in a sticky substance render it of limited palatability anyway. There is a report of poisoning from China in the early part of the 20th century which was allegedly from this species.
This member of the waxy cap group is recognized by its distinctly conic cap, yellow to scarlet fruiting body, all parts of which bruise or blacken in age. Occasionally one will encounter all black, still relatively fresh specimens in the field. The white spores, waxy gills, and flesh serve to separate this fungus from unrelated red-colored mushrooms. Hygrocybe singeri is very similar, but has a distinctly viscid stipe. Another blackening species is Hygrocybe nigrescens, which is distinquished from H. conica by a typically redder and less conic shaped cap and an oak woodland habitat. Hygrocybe acutoconica is also similar but does not bruise black.
There is a complex of yellow-orange black staining Hygrocybes in California. Many will need new names and more data/research is needed to clarify the species. The true Hygrocybe conica of Europe probably does not occur in California.
There are many other species of Hygrocybe, ranging in color from red to yellow to orange to white. To the left is Hygrocybe psittacina, the parrot mushroom, so named because of the green color fading out to yellow as it ages. Many other species of Hygrocybe may litter the ground, especially in conifer areas.
Other names: The Witch's Hat, Conical Waxcap, Conical Slimy Cap, Blackening Waxcap.
Hygrocybe conica Mushroom Identification
Precise ecological role uncertain (see Lodge and collaborators, 2013); appearing in Midwestern woods under hardwoods, especially oaks--but reported by other North American authors under conifers, as well; growing alone or gregariously; early summer through fall (also reported in winter in warmer climates); widely distributed in North America.
1-4 cm across (occasionally up to 6 cm across); sharply conical at first, expanding to broadly conical, or broadly convex with a raised center or point; sticky when very fresh, but soon greasy or dry; bald or finely radially silky; bright red to bright orange, fading to orangish or yellowish; developing black and olive stains, and eventually becoming black overall.
Narrowly attached to the stem; close or nearly distant; whitish to yellowish or yellow at first, becoming pale yellow, then orange; bruising and aging pale to dark gray or black; thick; short-gills frequent.
3-8 cm long; 3-10 mm thick (occasionally up to 20 mm thick); more or less equal; yellow to orangish-yellow or orange, with a white base; fairly dry; fragile; splitting; often grooved lengthwise or twisted; hollow; bruising black.
Colored like the cap; thin; slowly blackening on exposure.
Spore Print: White.
Hygrocybe conica Taxonomy and Etymology
Described scientifically in 1762 by pioneering German mycologist Jacob Christian Schaeffer, who gave it the name Agaricus conicus (at a time when most of the gilled mushrooms were included initially in the genus Agaricus), the Blackening Waxcap was transferred to the genus Hygrocybe by another German mycological giant, Paul Kummer, in 1871, when it acquired its currently accepted scientific name Hygrocybe conica.
Hygrocybe conica is the type species of the genus Hygrocybe. The Hygrocybe group name was first published in 1821 by the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries as a subsection of the then massive genus Agaricus. It was not until 1871 that Hygrocybe acquired genus status, a rank to which it was raised by the German mycologist Paul Kummer.
This waxcap was also described and named by many of the pioneering mycologists, and so it has a plethora of synonyms. Among these are Agaricus tristis Pers. Hygrophorus conicus (Schaeff.) Fr., Hygrophorus tristis (Pers.) Bres., Hygrocybe tristis (Pers.) F.H. Møller, Hygrophorus olivaceoniger P.D. Orton, Hygrocybe olivaceonigra (P.D. Orton) M.M. Moser, Hygrocybe conica var. olivaceonigra (P.D. Orton) Arnolds, and Hygrocybe cinereifolia Courtec. & Priou.
The genus Hygrocybe is so named because fungi in this group are always very moist. Hygrocybe means 'watery head'.
Witch's Hat is a name sometimes applied to the group of waxcap fungi that have sharply conical caps, and not surprisingly the specific epithet conica simply means conical.
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