Waxcap grassland

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Hygrocybe coccinea , a typical waxcap grassland species Scarlet Hood - geograph.org.uk - 584190.jpg
Hygrocybe coccinea , a typical waxcap grassland species

Waxcap grassland is short-sward, nutrient-poor grassland that supports a rich assemblage of larger fungi, particularly waxcaps ( Hygrocybe spp), characteristic of such habitats. Waxcap grasslands occur principally in Europe, where they are declining as a result of agricultural practices. The fungal species are consequently of conservation concern and efforts have been made in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to protect both the grasslands and their characteristic fungi.

<i>Hygrocybe</i> genus of fungi

Hygrocybe is a genus of agarics in the family Hygrophoraceae. Called waxcaps in English, basidiocarps are often brightly coloured and have waxy to slimy caps, white spores, and smooth, ringless stems. In Europe they are characteristic of old, unimproved grasslands which are a declining habitat, making many Hygrocybe species of conservation concern. Elsewhere they are more typically found in woodlands. Most are ground-dwelling and all are believed to be moss associates. Around 150 species are recognized worldwide. Fruit bodies of several Hygrocybe species are considered edible and are sometimes offered for sale in local markets.



The association of waxcaps with unimproved (nutrient-poor) grasslands was first noted in 1949 in the Netherlands, [1] but current interest was stimulated by a series of papers published by Dutch mycologist Eef Arnolds in the 1980s. [2] [3] Arnolds not only confirmed the association of waxcaps with unimproved grasslands, but also noted the rapid decline in such habitats in the Netherlands. [3] Similar studies were subsequently undertaken elsewhere in Europe, initially in Denmark [4] and the United Kingdom. [5]

Definition and description

Waxcap grasslands are characterized by being unimproved (unfertilized and nutrient-poor), short-sward (through grazing or mowing), moss-rich, and long-established (not recently sown). [6] [7] They occur in both upland and lowland areas and may be on acidic, neutral, or calcareous soil. They support a wide range of characteristic larger fungi, but may not be equally species-rich in plants. [6]

Characteristic species

Larger fungi characteristic of waxcap grasslands include agarics belonging to the genera Hygrocybe (waxcaps), Entoloma (pinkgills), Dermoloma , Porpoloma , and Camarophyllopsis , clavarioid fungi (club and coral fungi) belonging to the genera Clavaria , Clavulinopsis , and Ramariopsis , and earthtongues belonging to the genera Geoglossum , Microglossum , and Trichoglossum .

<i>Entoloma</i> genus of fungi

Entoloma is a large genus of terrestrial pink-gilled mushrooms, with about 1000 species. They have a drab appearance, pink gills which are attached to the stem, a smooth thick cap, and angular spores. Most entolomas are saprobic but some are mycorrhizal. The best-known member of the genus is the livid agaric, responsible for a number of poisonings over the years in Europe and North America, and Entoloma rhodopolium in Japan. Some southern hemisphere species such as Entoloma rodwayi and Entoloma viridomarginatum from Australia, and Entoloma hochstetteri from New Zealand, are very colourful, with caps of unusual shades of green and blue-green. Most entolomas are dull shades of olive, brown, or grey.

<i>Dermoloma</i> genus of fungi

Dermoloma is a genus of fungi in the family Tricholomataceae. The widespread genus contains about 15 species.

<i>Porpoloma</i> genus of fungi

Porpoloma is a genus of fungi in the family Tricholomataceae. The genus contains about 12 species found predominantly in South America. Porpoloma was described by mycologist Rolf Singer in 1952 with P. sejunctum as the type species.

<i>Dermoloma cuneifolium</i> species of fungus

Dermoloma cuneifolium is a species of fungus in the Tricholomataceae family, and the type species of the genus Dermoloma. Originally named Agaricus cuneifolius by Elias Magnus Fries in 1818, it was transferred to Dermoloma by Marcel Bon in 1986.

<i>Clavaria fragilis</i> species of fungus

Clavaria fragilis, commonly known as fairy fingers, white worm coral, or white spindles, is a species of fungus in the family Clavariaceae. It is synonymous with Clavaria vermicularis. The fungus is the type species of the genus Clavaria and is a typical member of the clavarioid or club fungi. It produces tubular, unbranched, white basidiocarps that typically grow in clusters. The fruit bodies can reach dimensions of 15 cm (5.9 in) tall by 0.5 cm (0.2 in) thick. Clavaria fragilis is a saprobic species, growing in woodland litter or in old, unimproved grassland. It is widespread throughout temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere, but has also been reported from Australia and South Africa. The fungus is edible, but insubstantial and flavorless. There are several other small white coral-like fungi with which C. fragilis may be confused.

Trichoglossum hirsutum species of fungus

Trichoglossum hirsutum is a species of fungi in the family Geoglossaceae. They are commonly called black earth tongues.

The "CHEG" assessment system

In 1995, Rald proposed a simple count of the number of Hygrocybe species present at a given site in order to assess its value as a waxcap grassland. He suggested that the presence of 17 or more species meant the site was of national importance, 9-16 species of regional importance, 4-8 species of local importance, and 3 or fewer of no importance. [4] A year later, this system was modified by Rotheroe and others to include all the characteristic macrofungi and not just waxcaps. [5] Known as the "CHEG" system, this is widely used in survey work today. The acronym "CHEG" stands for the main groups of relevant fungi: C - the clavarioid species; H - Hygrocybe species; E - Entoloma species; and G - the Geoglossaceae (earthtongues). More recently the modified term "CHEGD" has been used to include species of Dermoloma and Porpoloma (both Tricholomataceae) which also inhabit these grasslands [8] .

Clavarioid fungi

The clavarioid fungi are a group of fungi in the Basidiomycota typically having erect, simple or branched basidiocarps that are formed on the ground, on decaying vegetation, or on dead wood. They are colloquially called club fungi and coral fungi. Originally such fungi were referred to the genus Clavaria, but it is now known that clavarioid species are not all closely related. Since they are often studied as a group, it is convenient to retain the informal (non-taxonomic) name of "clavarioid fungi" and this term is frequently used in research papers.


This decline in waxcap grasslands has been mainly the result of agricultural improvement of pastures by ploughing and reseeding, by manuring, and by the use of fertilizers and other chemicals. [3] [6] . The maintenance of a short sward by grazing or mowing (and removal or cuttings) has also been shown to be important for fruiting of waxcaps, with haycutting in July, followed by aftermath grazing/mowing to 3 cm having found to be optimal [7] .

In 1988, Arnolds estimated that only some 200 ha of unimproved waxcap grasslands remained in the Netherlands. [2] As a result, both the grasslands and the larger fungi typical of such grasslands are of conservation concern, with the majority of species featuring in one or more national red lists of threatened fungi in Europe. [5]

In the United Kingdom, recent survey work has shown that surviving waxcap grasslands are more extensive than in many other European countries, thanks mainly to large areas of unimproved upland sheep pastures and also to many unimproved lawns (especially in churchyards and country houses) and amenity grasslands. Nonetheless, five species characteristic of waxcap grasslands - Entoloma bloxamii , Hygrocybe calyptriformis , Hygrocybe spadicea , Geoglossum atropurpureum , and Microglossum olivaceum - are or have been the subject of national Biodiversity Action Plans [9] and waxcap grasslands as a specific habitat are the subject of several local Biodiversity Action Plans. [10] [11] [12] Waxcap grassland surveys have been undertaken by the British Mycological Society, [5] the National Trust, [13] [14] Plantlife, [15] and the various national conservation bodies. [16] [17] As a result, several waxcap grassland sites, such as the banks of Llanishen and Lisvane Reservoirs in Cardiff [12] [18] and the lawns of Roecliffe Manor in Leicestershire, [19] have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, affording them some legal protection. A leaflet on managing waxcap grasslands in Britain and Ireland has been published by Plantlife and the Fungus Conservation Forum. [20]

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Hygrophoraceae family of fungi

The Hygrophoraceae are a family of fungi in the order Agaricales. Originally conceived as containing white-spored, thick-gilled agarics, including Hygrophorus and Hygrocybe species, DNA evidence has extended the limits of the family, so it now contains not only agarics, but also basidiolichens and corticioid fungi. Species are thus diverse and are variously ectomycorrhizal, lichenized, associated with mosses, or saprotrophic. The family contains 25 genera and over 600 species. None is of any great economic importance, though fruit bodies of some Hygrocybe and Hygrophorus species are considered edible and may be collected for sale in local markets.

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<i>Entoloma bloxamii</i> species of fungus

Entoloma bloxamii, commonly known as the big blue pinkgill or Bloxam's entoloma, is a mushroom in the Entolomataceae family of fungi. It is widely distributed in Europe, although it is rare throughout its range, which also extends into Asia and North America.

<i>Porpolomopsis calyptriformis</i> species of fungus

Porpolomopsis calyptriformis is a species of agaric in the family Hygrophoraceae. It has been given the recommended English name of Pink Waxcap in the UK. The species has a north temperate distribution, occurring in grassland in Europe and in woodland in North America and northern Asia. It typically produces basidiocarps in the autumn. In many European countries, P. calyptriformis is of conservation concern, appearing on national red lists of threatened fungi.

<i>Hygrocybe chlorophana</i> species of fungus

Hygrocybe chlorophana is a species of agaric in the family Hygrophoraceae. It has been given the recommended English name of golden waxcap in the UK. The species has a largely north temperate distribution, occurring in grassland in Europe and in woodland in North America and northern Asia; it has also been reported from mountainous areas of southern Australia. It typically produces basidiocarps in the autumn. In a few European countries, H. chlorophana is of conservation concern, appearing on national red lists of threatened fungi.

<i>Cuphophyllus virgineus</i> species of fungus

Cuphophyllus virgineus is a species of agaric in the family Hygrophoraceae. Its recommended English common name is snowy waxcap in the UK. The species has a largely north temperate distribution, occurring in grassland in Europe and in woodland in North America and northern Asia, but is also known from Australia. It typically produces basidiocarps in the autumn.

<i>Cuphophyllus pratensis</i> species of fungus

Cuphophyllus pratensis is a species of agaric in the family Hygrophoraceae. It has been given the recommended English name of meadow waxcap in the UK and in North America has variously been called the meadow waxy cap, salmon waxy cap, and butter meadowcap. The species has a widespread, mainly temperate distribution, occurring in grassland in Europe and in woodland elsewhere. The basidiocarps are edible and are occasionally collected and sold commercially.

<i>Gliophorus irrigatus</i> species of fungus

Gliophorus irrigatus is a species of agaric in the family Hygrophoraceae. It has been given the recommended English name of slimy waxcap in the UK. The species is widespread in temperate regions, occurring in grassland in Europe and in woodland in North America and elsewhere.

<i>Hygrocybe quieta</i> species of fungus

Hygrocybe quieta is a species of agaric in the family Hygrophoraceae. It has been given the recommended English name of oily waxcap in the UK. The species has a European distribution and typically occurs in grassland where it produces basidiocarps in the autumn. In several countries, H. quieta is of conservation concern, appearing on national red lists of threatened fungi.

<i>Entoloma murrayi</i> species of fungus

Entoloma murrayi, commonly known as the yellow unicorn Entoloma or the unicorn pinkgill, is a species of fungus in the Entolomataceae family. First described from New England (USA) in 1859, the species is found in eastern North America, Central and South America, and southeast Asia, where it grows on the ground in wet coniferous and deciduous forests. The fungus produces yellow mushrooms that have a characteristic sharp umbo on the top of a conical cap. The mushroom is inedible and may be poisonous. Other similar species can be distinguished from E. murrayi by differences in color, morphology, or microscopic characteristics.

Nothomitra is a genus of fungi in the earth tongue family Geoglossaceae. There is no known common name. Nothomitra is morphologically distinguished from Microglossum in that the fertile hymenium in Nothomitra is not flattened as in Microglossum. Furthermore, the hymenium in Nothomitra is distinctly free at the junction of the stipe, unlike in Microglossum in which the hymenium is flattened and gradually intergrades with the stipe.

<i>Glutinoglossum glutinosum</i> species of fungus

Glutinoglossum glutinosum, commonly known as the viscid black earth tongue or the glutinous earthtongue, is a species of fungus in the family Geoglossaceae. Widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, it has been found in northern Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Although previously thought to exist in Australasia, collections made from these locations have since been referred to new species. G. glutinosum is a saprophytic species that grows on soil in moss or in grassy areas. The smooth, nearly black, club-shaped fruitbodies grow to heights ranging from 1.5 to 5 cm. The head is up to 0.7 cm (0.3 in) long, and the stipes are sticky. Several other black earth tongue species are quite similar in external appearance, and many can be reliably distinguished only by examining differences in microscopic characteristics, such as spores, asci, and paraphyses. First described in 1796 as a species of Geoglossum, the fungus has gone through several changes of genera in its taxonomic history. It was placed in its current genus, Glutinoglossum, in 2013.

<i>Hygrocybe flavifolia</i> species of Agaricomycetes

Hygrocybe flavifolia is a mushroom of the waxcap genus Hygrocybe. Found in North America, it was described as new to science by Alexander H. Smith and Lexemuel Ray Hesler in 1942 as a species of Hygrophorus. Rolf Singer transferred it to Hygrocybe in 1945.


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