By Charlotte Owen
It’s proving to be an excellent autumn for fungi. The mild, wet weather has encouraged a multitude of mushrooms to pop up all over the place, flourishing in front gardens and embellishing roadside verges with their weird and wonderful formations. Sometimes, a closer look among the giant parasols and oozing inkcaps is rewarded with a smattering of tiny, colourful gems – but only if you’re looking in the right place.
The brightly-coloured waxcaps are often thought of as the orchids of the fungi kingdom because they are so vibrant and showy, and also quite particular. They will only grow on undisturbed, nutrient-poor grasslands like ancient pasture and other land that has never been ploughed or fertilised, as well as sand dunes and heathland. As a result, many species are rare and hard to find but some grow much closer to home – literally. Waxcaps can appear in garden lawns, grassy churchyards and even the occasional cricket pitch as long as the conditions are right. Wherever you find them, their presence means you’re in a very special place.
Waxcaps come in almost every colour of the rainbow and it’s possible to score a waxcap grassland based on the colours that you find. Red and pink are worth the most. There is only one pink species, the dainty Ballerina Waxcap, so-called because its conical cap expands and turns upwards at the edges until it resembles a delicate tutu. Shades of red are trickier to distinguish but include the Crimson Waxcap, which often appears in large groups known as troops, and the more blood-red Scarlet Waxcap, which usually fades to yellow at the centre with age, while the Splendid Waxcap can be identified by its distinctive honey scent.
Orange, buff and yellow are the next best-scoring colours, from the showy Citrine, Golden and Butter Waxcaps to the more mushroomy Meadow Waxcap, which often forms impressive fairy rings. The lowest-scoring (so more common) Parrot Waxcap is one of the most colourful, starting off vivid emerald green and tropical yellow before transitioning through a variety of shades as it matures. It can be well camouflaged among the green grass but is always well worth searching for.