16 February 2021
Scarlet elf cups
These bright red cup fungi always brighten up a winter visit to local damp woodlands (and indeed our garden as in the photograph) but you have look down on the damp woodland floor to find them. The cup-shaped fruiting bodies usually grow out of leaf litter or out of moss covered rotting logs and are best seen during the winter and spring. While most of the fungus is underground or within rotting wood, the above ground cups can be from 2-7cm across. The spores are produced inside the cups.
There are two closely related species of these bright red or reddish-orange cup fungi that need a microscope or DNA kit to distinguish and in the fungi literature the two are often confused. They were only clearly distinguished from each other in 1997 using (I read) molecular sequencing and which is rather beyond my resources.
I like to think that ours are Sarcoscypha coccinea generally known as the scarlet or ruby elf cup, but there is also the very similar Scarcoscypha austriaca which, unfortunately, goes by the same common name. Scarlet elf cups were first described in 1755 by Carl Linnaeus and this species (S coccinea) given its current name in 1889.
Whatever they are called, these are brilliant little red jewels on the woodland floor and well worth looking out for.