Hygrocybe acutoconica - Persistent Waxcap (old scientific names include Hygrocybe persistens var. persistens, Hygrophorus conicus var. persistens, Hygrocybe aurantiolutescens, Hygrophorus aurantiolutescens, Hygrocybe aurantiolutescens f. pseudoconica, Hygrocybe aurantiolutescens var. parapersistens, Hygrocybe constans, Hygrophorus cuspidatus, Hygrocybe persistens var cuspidate, Hygrocybe langei, Hygrocybe persistens var. langei and Hygrophorus rickenii
This species is one of a suite of fungi that are characteristic of unimproved, short sward grassland. This suite can be used to identify sites of long established, low input management and high biodiversity. Many waxcap grasslands are not particularly rich in higher plants and thus can often be missed in a conservation assessment. The name ‘waxcap grassland’ has been coined for those grasslands that have a high diversity of these CHEG fungi – Clavariaceae (Fairy Clubs and Corals), Hygrocybe (Waxcaps), Entoloma (Pinkgills) and Geoglossaceae (Earthtongues). A considerable amount of survey work on this suite has enabled JNCC to suggest some criteria for site assessment. There is still a lot to find out however, and a new waxcap grassland project is now under way.
By August, in a damp summer, the waxcap grassland species are beginning to get going. The Entolomas (Pinkgills) flush first in July and August and are accompanied by the early Hygrocybe (Waxcap) species. Later in September is probably the best time in Scotland to assess the full Hygrocybe diversity of any site, so keep your eyes open for these early indicators.
Hygrocybe acutoconica is a beautiful yellow species, probably better known to most people as Hygrocybe persistens; the species has recently had its name changed to H. acutoconica – a name that was actually published earlier and thus has priority! The English name stays the same of course, and as it suggests, this early species is also characterised by maintaining a rather conical shaped cap, rarely flattening out as so many other species do as they mature. The cap can expand to around 7cm and the stipe up to 1cm across. The cap is more or less viscid (sticky) to touch but does dry out; the stipe is drier although can feel greasy after handling. Fruit bodies with more orange in them can look like large specimens of H. conica (Blackening Waxcap) but the flesh of this latter species quickly blackens with age or damage, where as H. acutoconica does not. Interestingly it is proving very difficult to establish how these fungi obtain their nutrients, although it has been shown that all members of the suite do have the same feeding requirements. It was assumed that they were feeding on dead plant material deep in the humus layers but this has been difficult to prove and research is still ongoing to try and unravel the mystery.
Fruiting: fruit bodies start to appear in May and then increase dramatically in number in August and continue through September after which time they drop off rapidly.
Habitat: fruiting in both acid and base rich soil in unimproved grassland. Habitats include fields, lawns, coastal grasslands, roadside verges and grassy woodland sites. The features in common to these habitats will be that the grassland involved will not have been heavily fertilised or recently ploughed and reseeded and will have a relatively short sward height.
Distribution: as given in the Checklist of the British and Irish Basidiomycota Legon & Henrici 2005: for all countries ‘occasional or infrequently reported’ apart from the Isle of Man where it is said to be present but the frequency unknown.
The total number of records for this species on the Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland is 1441 with 541 of those originating in Scotland.
By Liz Holden