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Waxy Caps - Hygrophoraceae p.p.

Expert links: Not Waxy Caps On Wood Cuphophyllus
  Hygrocybe Gliophorus, etc. Hygrophorus

One of the major lineages of gilled mushrooms are the white spored Hygrophoroid mushrooms. As a group, it's almost impossible to tell by sight if a mushroom is a member of this clade or not, with the notable exception that some of them evolved to look and feel like they were made of wax. Microscopically, they have basidia five times or more longer than their spores, something that probably contributes to the waxy feel of the gills (where the waxiness is often most apparent).

Most waxy caps are thought to be edible, but most unfortunately also taste like wax. Some people find some of them quite good, but a few are rumoured to be poisonous (like Hygrocybe conica, although that may not be true). Cuphophyllus are probably the least icky tasting of the lot.

Here is an example of waxy looking gills, which defines this category. Unfortunately, it's often more subtle than this.

Waxy looking gills... thick, spaced well apart, and not just white but white.

Regular gills of a different kind of white spored mushroom.

Let's first get a few mushrooms out of the way that look like Waxy Caps, but are not related.

Pseudoomphalina angelesiana (Neohygrophorus angelesianus) - very much like Arrhenia, but viscid and somewhat waxy looking. Mostly found in the spring near melting snow. Amyloid spores (darkening in iodine). Actually in the Tricholomatoid clade.

Hodophilus paupertinus (Camarophyllopsis 'foetens') - hygrophanous, dry cap, brown overall, few gills, mothball odor! A primitive gilled mushroom relative.

Hodophilus sp. - undescribed Victoria species with darker yellow-brown tones.

Waxy cap relatives on wood - these strongly decurrent related mushrooms are in the same family, but sometimes not considered waxy caps (because they mostly grow on wood). It is tempting to consider them saprophytic, but given the confusing ecology of Hygrocybe, that is unclear. They are small, <5cm across, sometimes smaller. Chrysomphalina can be hygrophanous.

Chrysomphalina aurantiaca - an obvious waxy cap relative, if not for it growing on wood.

Chrysomphalina chrysophylla - brown capped (occasionally yellow) and golden yellow everywhere else. On wood.

Chrysomphalina grossula - yellow-green on wood.

Chromosera 'cyanophylla' - viscid cap and stem, decurrent, with purple gills, but the purple fades away. Related to Hygrocybe but fruiting on wood. See also Baeospora.

Cuphophyllus (formerly Camarophyllus) etc. - This is the most difficult group of waxies to characterize, so you'll need to check these first. They all have dry stems, usually dull colours and decurrent gills that are often widely spaced, but so do many other things on this page. The real differentiating character of Cuphophyllus is microscopic and is called "strongly interwoven gill trama". Unless otherwise specified as larger, mostly <5cm.

Aphroditeola 'olida' (Hygrophoropsis 'morganii') - pink with white or pink gills, once thought to be a gilled bolete! Smells like tutti-frutti bubble gum! This is a waxy cap relative.

Cantharocybe gruberi - also somewhat related, pale to bright yellow, <20cm, sometimes with an eccentric stem like Pleurotus, as shown here, but found on the ground.

C. subviolaceus (lacmus) - beautiful purple tinged gills, darker cap, white stem.

C. rainierensis/nordmanensis are similar but smell of green corn.

C. virgineus grp (borealis/niveus) - small, white, usually dry capped, similar to Hygrophorus piceae, eburneus and pusillus, but odorless, the stem not very pruinose and not truly viscid.

C. lawrencei/russocoriaceus group - like C. virgineus, but smells like a cedar chest!

C. colemannianus - a cinnamon-brown capped otherwise whitish waxy (gills may be tinted), paler and more decurrent than Gliophorus unguinosus with a dryer stem.

C. recurvatus - darker olive brown cap, white gills, more slender, slightly coloured stem like G. unguinosus (but dry) and gills more decurrent.

C. pratensis grp - <10cm, dry capped, orange to pinkish, wide spaced decurrent gills. Resembles Hygrophorus pudorinus with a viscid cap and close gills.

C. graveolens - similar, often paler cap and more slender, sweet smell.

C. cremicolor - yellow gills, may not be a distinct species?, <5cm, with a cottony young cap margin.

 

Hygrocybes have long been thought to be symbiotic with mosses, since they often grow far away from trees, but recent studies are showing that many of them may be symbiotic or parasitic on grasses. Given the large scale habitat loss in Europe of wild grasslands, Hygrocybes there are becoming endangered. Hygrocybes in North America, however, are often found in forests, so their ecology is not well understood. Australia is especially rich in their diversity. It is thought that perhaps they evolved there to attract the attention of birds who like shiny things, whereas in North America fungi tend to evolve odors to attract squirrels. (Australia doesn't have any native squirrels.)

First, those with gills not as brightly coloured as the cap, not usually decurrent.

H. singeri ('conica') - the "witch's cap" - pointedly conic, red-orange, and turns black in age or wherever touched. Might be completely black! Stem often viscid as in Gliophorus.

H. acutoconica (persistens)/cuspidata - pointed, doesn't turn black, usually yellowish/reddish (but they may be the same thing). Viscid.

H. acuta - dark grey pointy cap, else white.

H. flavescens (chlorophana) - very similar, yellow (to orange), not as pointy. Viscid cap and often stem, as in Gliophorus.

H. miniata grp - dry and minutely scaly red-orange-yellow waxies. Viscid, smooth capped or decurrent small red species are rare, and covered later.

H. coccinea - larger than H. miniata, not scaly but not truly viscid, and more dominated by red colours. Hygrophorus speciosus is only coloured on the cap.

H. punicea - even larger, up to 10cm or more, and viscid. Less red in the stem (mostly as striations) and in fact pale at the base.

H. virescens - Redwood associate, a greenish yellow. Not viscid.

 

Next we have some seldom found species with mostly dry stems (never strongly viscid) and usually decurrent gills.

H. turunda - scarlet fading to orange-brown dry, scaly cap, in moss. Decurrent.Cap scales darken in age.

H. subminiata - also decurrent. Reddish smooth, viscid cap.

H. atro-olivacea - also decurrent. Olive-brown dry, scaly cap with darker centre.

H. cantharellus - long stem like the yellow and viscid Gloioxanthomyces nitidus. Cap scales always same colour as cap. Larger and waxier than the very similar and very common Rickenella fibula.

H. albicarnea - white to pale pink, decurrent gills. Smooth, viscid cap.

H. ceracea - a golden orange waxy, with adnate to decurrent gills, near hardwoods in grass or moss.

H. parvula - not conic, yellow cap and decurrent gills, stem sometimes darker orange-pink. <5cm

Many of those with brightly coloured gills (at least as bright as the cap) or a very viscid stem (often with somewhat decurrent gills), have been separated by some mycologists into other genera. These are closely related to Hygrocybe, so whether or not to "lump" them all in Hygrocybe or "split" them into these different genera is somewhat subjective. Feel free to keep calling these Hygrocybe if you want to. (Hygrocybe singeri and H. chlorophana, above, may have slightly viscid stems, but not nearly as slippery as these do and those two usually have notched gills).

Gliophorus 'psittacinus' grp - beautiful all-slimy unique green mushrooms that fades to orange (and maybe back again)! Cap sometimes pointed, gills not decurrent, unlike G. laetus.

G. laetus grp - also completely viscid. Smells like fish! Colour varies but usually duller orange than G. psittacina. Cap never pointy and gills decurrent.

G. unguinosus (irrigatus)/subaromaticuscompletely viscid, dark grey-brown cap and stem. Cuphophyllus recurvatus has a dry, paler stem and more decurrent gills.

G. minutulus red-orange-yellow colours, small, viscid cap and stem.

Hygrocybe reae - similar, bitter taste.

Gloioxanthomyces nitidus - viscid, completely yellow, umbilicate, decurrent waxy with a long slender stem like the drier, orange Hygrocybe cantharellus. Most closely related to Chromosera.

Chromosera citrinopallida - an irregularly yellow-white coloured viscid, decurrent viscid stemmed waxy. <1cm.

Gliophorus flavifolius - even more brilliant yellow gills. <5cm. Southern.

Chromosera 'cyanophylla' - viscid cap and stem, decurrent, with purple gills, but the purple fades away. Unusual for growing on wood. See also Baeospora.

Humidicutis marginata var. olivaceus - dry stem, bright orange gills, fading orange cap and stem with olive tints, and sometimes conic. <5cm.

 

First, it is unusual for a waxy cap to have a partial veil, but these do, leaving fibrillose remnants on the stem. This is different from the universal veil of slime that many species are covered in. This can be subtle, so check young specimens.

H. subalpinus - Found in the spring near snow. Stocky, up to 15cm or more!

H. albiflavus - small, slender, white.

H. speciosus - completely slimy with a red-orange cap and orange-white stem with a fleeting slimy veil. Compared to H. coccinea etc. it is slimier with gills and stem less colourful. Favours larch. <5cm.

H. siccipes ('hypothejus') - orange and/or olive streaky cap (and stem?) with darker centre, often yellow gills, subtle veil.

H. boyeri ('hypothejus') - paler, the orange fading, and more slender. From Boreal BC and California.

H. 'olivaceoalbus' ('persoonii') - viscid olive-brown cap and stem without orange. Subtle veil of dark fibrils.

H. megasporus - olive brown/black cap, lacking the partial veil.

H. fuscoalboides - veil of grey fibrils, dry stem (unlike the others).

H. inocybiformis - completely dry, scaly, veiled waxy. <5cm

These next species can be detected from their sweet odor, often like the almond syrup that is added to your morning latte. As usual, they are viscid capped with usually slightly decurrent gills.

H. odoratus (agathosmus) - pale grey capped, sweet almond smell, sometimes small.

H. bakerensis - yellowish-brown centre, sweet almond, largest one (<15cm).

H. variicolor - tawny to cinnamon brown centre, with a viscid stem, faintly almond.

H. pacificus - very similar, different brown cap, different sweet odor, slightly yellow gills?

H. secretanii (monticola) - almond smelling small (<5cm) light brown to vinaceous streaky capped waxy.

H. vinicolor - similar, but pinkish gills and pink pruinose stem, bad taste. May not be distinct.

H. pusillus - pinkish-brown centred, <5cm, faintly sweet.

H. subpungens - white, disc darkens to brownish-pink and gills darken to cinnamon, faintly spicy.

H. cossus - white, ochre to pinkish cap in age, aromatic, viscid cap and stem.

Next, pale Hygrophorus, with tones of yellow, pink or orange, and rarely blue. Some slimy species have both a viscid cap and stem. (H. subalpinus is pale, but has a partial veil and so is found in that section).

H. piceae - <5cm, much like Cuphophyllus virgineus, but always viscid cap and the top of the stem is pruinose or fibrillose more so than other species. Spruce.

H. eburneus - slimy all over, a little larger than H. piceae.

H. chrysaspis - hardwood, darkens when dried. KOH on cap yellow-orange.

H. cossus - ochre to pinkish cap in age, aromatic.

H. gliocyclus - yellow stained, white, large and stocky, all slimy waxy.

H. flavodiscus - smaller (<7cm) yellow centred cap drying darker.

H. glutinosus - smaller, KOH yellow on cap? rough stem, apex dries with red dots.

H. chrysodon - a mostly white waxy with beautiful golden flakes. Hard to ID if the flakes rub off. Viscid.

H. pusillus - pinkish-brown centred small, viscid cap (<5cm), faintly sweet.

H. subpungens - white, disc darkens to brownish-pink and gills darken to cinnamon, faintly spicy.

H. goetzii - (<5cm) pinkish (to orange) viscid waxy, snowbank.

H. vernalis - yellow-brown, perhaps a vinaceous tint, close gills. Snowbank.

H. pudorinus (fragrans) - pink to orange viscid cap (rarely white). Upper stem punctate. May smell sweet. Larger than H. goetzii with closer spaced gills than it or than the dry capped Cuphophyllus pratensis.

H. sordidus (penarius) - Stocky, white (to pale pink) cap. Hardwood associate. Up to 15cm or more!

H. caeruleus - a very rare, stocky, beautiful powder blue species. Spring. This species looks waxy but may be a relative of Clitocybe odora!

H. saxatilis - pinkish gills! Faint peachy odor. Possible pink spores are worth investigating. See also Lactarius controversus.

H. amarus - said to be very bitter, yellowish pink cap with a white fibrillose stem sheath. Yellowish gills may stain red.

H. ellenae - clustered, all white at first, cap and gills becoming tinged apricot. Twisted striate stem.

Next, colourful purple, reddish and orange Hygrophorus. They are somewhat viscid with adnate to slightly decurrent gills.

H. purpurascens (velatus?) - starts out mostly white and turns purple as it ages. Only purple species with a veil. Spring.

H. erubescens - Often seen with yellow tones, which is the best way to ID it. Taller stature.

H. russula - squatter stature, darker pink, otherwise difficult to tell apart from H. erubescens if that has no yellow. Oak associate.

H. capreolarius - darker in youth and perhaps less irregularly coloured than the others.

H. speciosus - completely slimy with a red-orange cap and a fleeting slimy veil. Compared to H. coccinea etc. it is slimier with gills and stem less colourful. Favours larch. <5cm.

H. siccipes ('hypothejus') - orange and/or olive streaky cap (and stem?) with darker centre, often yellow gills, subtle veil.

H. boyeri ('hypothejus') - paler, the orange fading, and more slender. From Boreal BC and California.

And now a few brown to black capped species, with the typical slightly viscid cap and decurrent gills.

H. camarophyllus - a beautiful contrast between a grey or black cap, white gills, and sometimes black in the stem.

H. calophyllus - stickier, less streaky dark brown cap, often with pink gills!

H. marzuolus - perhaps paler grey and found in the spring, often near snowbanks.

H. megasporus - olive brown/black cap, viscid stems like H. olivaceoalbus, but lacking the partial veil.

H. tephroleucus (pustulatus) - <5cm, grey-brown cap, sometimes pointed, dark scabers on the somewhat viscid stem.

H. morrisii - much like pustulatus, but without distinct scabers, and always dry stem.

H. discoideus - small (<5cm) southern species, no odor, but with a darker brown centre like H. bakerensis and viscid all over.

H. avellaneifolius - <5cm, brown cap, distinct "avellaneous" grey gills.

A surprising number of other mushrooms are related to the waxy caps, but not waxy themselves. This Hygrophoroid clade is one of the three main clades that the traditional huge Tricholomataceae family of miscellaneous white spored mushrooms was split into (the third being the Marasmioid clade). These other waxy relatives are divided amongst the other pages of similar-shaped mushrooms - Marasmioid, Omphalinoid and Clitocyboid because there is no way to recognize them as a group without DNA sequencing.

The waxy caps are a fascinating and much loved family of mushrooms. For more specialized literature, see North American Species of Hygrophorus by Hesler and Smith, although it is from 1963 and without any colour photos, which some might feel defeats the purpose of a book on waxy caps. Waxcap Mushrooms of Eastern North America by Bessette et. al. is recent and full of colour photos, but not local.

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