4 Jul 2024

Waxcaps Wonders: Exploring the Fungi of Waun Las

Ellyn Baker

In celebration of Wales Nature Week, today we shine our spotlight on the internationally important collection of waxcap fungi which can be found during autumn and winter in the meadows of our Waun Las National Nature Reserve. These brightly coloured fungi, with their distinctive waxy caps, are excellent indicators of healthy grassland habitats.

Wales is home to some of the most important waxcap grasslands in the world. Remarkably, within just one field in the Botanic Garden, Cae Waxcap, there are at least ten fungi that are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. Among these are the Ballerina Waxcap (Porpolomopsis calyptriformis), Splendid Waxcap (Hygrocybe splendidissima) and Crimson Waxcap (Hygrocybe punicea). a more common waxcap species, but which is still very impressive is the Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica), which starts off bright orange and turns black with age, as the name suggests. Another distinctive species is the (Hygrocybe reidii) which gives off the smell of honey when cut or bruised.

These amazing fungi provide essential ecosystem services, including water supply and flow regulation, carbon storage and erosion control. They are crucial components of grassland ecosystems, acting as decomposers, mycorrhizal mutualists, and pathogens.

In less than a century, we have lost over 97% of species-rich grasslands and meadows, with intensively farmed grassland now covering nearly half of the UK. Grassland fungi are especially vulnerable to ploughing and the application of fertiliser. At the Botanic Garden, we farm organically, with an emphasis on managing the land to nurture biodiversity, protecting these fungi with international conservation importance.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales is supported by Welsh Government’s Nature Networks Fund, funding work to deliver infrastructure improvements on Waun Las NNR, allowing us to manage the site for improved biodiversity and engage with visitors on our natural heritage.