Sunday, 5 March 2017

Wet woodland on a winter’s day …

Scarlet Elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca)

The stunning S. austriaca, commonly referred to as Scarlet Elfcup, is widespread but generally only occasional throughout Britain and Ireland. It appears in winter and early spring on dead hardwood twigs in damp, shady places, usually partly buried amongst moss and leaf litter. The fruiting body is cup-shaped with a smooth scarlet interior. Of course identification is never as easy as it may first seem as the macroscopically almost identical S. coccinea, the Ruby Elfcup, occurs in similar environments. The two can only reliably be identified by DNA analysis or, to those of us without such facilities being readily available, microscopic examination of the tomentum [microscopic hairs on the outer surface of the cups] and spores.

The above images show a small selection of specimens recently photographed in West Sussex. My special thanks to Nick Aplin of the Sussex Fungus Group who kindly supplied the photomicrograph and confirmed their identification by observing the distinctive ascospore germination and the depressed spore poles which separate S. austriaca and S. coccinea.


Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 608, fig. p. 607.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, pp. 21, 62, 309 and 387.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 367, fig. p. 366 (i).
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 326, fig. p. 327.


  1. beautiful work there Mark, glad you got the ID confirmations, I'm still wondering if there were some un-sampled specimen around of the other variety. Always a chance ;-)

  2. Thanks, Jim. Much appreciated. I agree and was rather hoping from the samples collected that I'd have both species. My gut reaction was that the main site was austriaca and that one of the smaller satellite sites might have produced coccinea. Another excuse to keep on looking ...