Is that wax on your gills?

If it is, you may have found a species of mushroom commonly referred to as a Waxy Cap. In older mushroom books, before the time when “Genus Name-Splitting” became all the rage, most of these mushrooms were placed into two major genera, Hygrophorus (meaning; water-bearing) or Hygrocybe (meaning; watery head). So why aren’t these mushrooms called Watery Caps you ask? I could answer that question, however; I’d be telling you way more than I know. In any event, I really enjoy finding mushrooms in the genus Hygrocybe and those that have been split off into the genus Gliophorus (meaning; glue bearing). While the genus names of these mushrooms sound like the names of long-extinct dinosaurs, the actual mushrooms are amazingly colorful and in fact, waxy feeling. Cap colors can be yellow, orange, red, green or various blends of these shades. In general, the caps are viscid or gluey feeling and quite shiny when wet.

The idea of writing about these mushrooms came to me when I spotted a group of bright orange capped little beauties in our backyard. With the aid of several mushroom books and reliable web sources, I was able to identify it as Hygrocybe ceracea, sometimes referred to as the Butter Waxcap. Even at this modest size you can slide your finger across the mushrooms gills and get the feeling of rubbing across the surface of a candle.

My first encounter with a waxy cap was with Sandy on one of our early trips to the Cascades. Being newbies to the whole mushroom hunting experience, we came decked out in jeans, sneakers, and an all-important raincoat. It took several years for us to figure out that wearing rain-pants along with waterproof boots made rainy days a lot more comfortable. Anyway, we spotted this incredibly shiny green capped mushroom rising above the duff. Being all excited at our find we pulled out our copy of David Arora’s pocket field guide and like many inexperienced mushroom identifiers skipped over the quick-key pages in the front and went right to the pictures. Luckily we only had to flip through 46 pages before seeing the mushroom we were looking for. It was the Parrot Mushroom, Hygrocybe psittacinus and was it ever spectacular. If we had only brought a camera with us; an oversight which we also remedied in subsequent outings. Fortunately, Michael Wood was courteous enough to give CMS permission to use one of his photos which were posted on

Bringing a camera on our future outings allowed us to take a picture of this really cool looking waxy cap mushroom. By using “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast” as a reference, we were able to narrow down the possibilities and settled on Hygrocybe aurantiosplendens. The species name was derived from the Latin words aurantiacus meaning orange colored and splendidus meaning bright or glittering. While the species name is quite long I guess it is better than calling it Hygrocybe orangecoloredbrightorglittering.

Hopefully, you were able to attend this October’s Mushroom Festival at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum and see the very large white waxy cap mushroom Mike Potts brought up from the Ashland area of Oregon. Appropriately called Hygrophorus ponderatus, it was by far the largest waxy cap I have ever seen. If you thought the Latin name ponderatus translated into English to Bigly as I did, well not exactly. The Latin dictionary I used interpreted it as “to have weight” which in all fairness is quite similar to Bigly. In any case, the moral of this story seems to be dress appropriately, always bring a camera, and keep your eye out for colorful or a very large waxy looking and feeling mushrooms. Given that there are about 150 species of Hygrocybe mushrooms recognized worldwide, you’re bound to run into one somewhere. And of course, bring a mushroom field guide or two along so you can determine what you found.

Photos and References
Gliophorus psittacinus photo courtesy of Michael Wood, taken from

David Arora – All that the Rain Promises, and More…
Noah Siegel & Christian Schwarz – Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast
Steve Trudell & Joe Ammirati – Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest

Great online resource for waxy caps

You may also like...