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What is a Scarlet Hood Mushroom?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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The scarlet hood mushroom is a mushroom in the waxcap genus Hygrocybe, a genus of incredibly varied and often extremely colorful mushrooms found all over the world. Somewhat unusually for fungi, the scarlet hood mushroom is edible, despite the fact that it is bright red, a color which usually indicates toxicity in fungi. However, these mushrooms are not terribly exciting, so most people don't eat them, unless they feel particularly desperate.

Like most other waxcaps, the scarlet hood mushroom is a saprotroph, which means that it gathers nutrition from dead organic materials. Scarlet hood mushrooms are found throughout the northern hemisphere, especially in American woodlands and unimproved grasslands in Europe. Woodlands are prime locations for nutritious decaying organic matter, while grasslands which have not been treated with chemicals also have rich deposits of nutritious organic material which waxcaps can feed on.

These mushrooms are typically small, with bright red conical caps which slowly flatten with age. The stipe or stem of the scarlet hood mushroom is orange to red in color, with a flared base. The spore print is white, and the gills are adnate, which means that they are attached to the stipe of the mushroom with a broad strip of material.

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Formally, the scarlet hood mushroom is known as Hygrocybe coccinea. This mushroom is also known as the righteous waxycap or scarlet waxy cap. As all of the common names for this mushroom suggest, the red color is perhaps its most distinctive feature; the Latin name also references the rich crimson color, as coccinea is Latin for “red.” These mushrooms have been described since the 1700s, and classified in Hygrocybe in the 1800s, after being passed from genus to genus several times.

Because these mushrooms are so bright, they really pop out from their surrounding environment, being readily visible even to people who are not looking particularly hard. This can make them a good species for beginning mycologists to learn to identify, and often casting about in the neighborhood of a scarlet hood mushroom reveals other mushroom species of interest, as well.

Because the scarlet hood mushroom is technically edible, but not very tasty, most people do not harvest these mushrooms, preferring to photograph them in situ for their records. Because of their rich color, these mushrooms make excellent subjects for nature photography, especially when a camera of high quality is available.

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