Witches Hat Mushroom

Witches Hat Mushroom, Vancouver Island, BC
Witches Hat Mushroom, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

The Witches Hat Mushroom is commonly known as the witches cap, they are also called blackening waxcap mushrooms, this is one of several species whose caps turn black with age. The witch’s cap can be seen in lines along roadsides where the grass is well shaded, moist, and mossy.

This mushroom is quite beautiful when seen in bright sunshine, these conical waxcap fungi can look just as good in wet weather, as they stand out brightly against the green background of their grassy habitats.

Witch’s Hats can be red, orange, yellow, and jet black. Sometimes you will see all of these colors in a group and occasionally on a single mushroom. The shapes of the caps are sometimes conical while some become almost flat.

The beauty of these little mushrooms is fleeting, as they will soon turn black all over. If you touch the cap, gills, or stem they soon turn black. Witches caps continue to drop spores even when entirely blackened.

The cap is from 4 to 7 cm in diameter; varying from an initial light orange to orange-red, often paler at the edge. The surface is slimy in damp weather but in dry weather, it becomes dry and silky. The caps rarely open out fully and after fruiting, they soon turn black, at first in patches but eventually they blacken all over. Even when blackened the caps of these fungi remain quite shiny. The gills are at first a pale lemon yellow, becoming more orange and then blackening as the rest of the mushroom changes color.

The stem is up to 8 mm in diameter and up to 8 cm tall. The stem is yellow with a scarlet tinge color near the cap but remaining much paler at the base, the stem is full, rather than hollow, and the stem flesh is initially white but quickly turns black when cut. Eventually, the whole stem blackens from the top downwards. The spore print is white.

Witches hat mushrooms have long been considered to be saprobic on the dead roots of grasses and other grassland plants, but it is now considered likely that there is some kind of mutual relationship between waxcaps and mosses.

The witches hat is a fairly common mushroom on the BC coast and can be found in most areas, it is also found over much of North America and Europe as well.

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