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Scarlet Cups (Sarcoscypha spp.)

Good evening, friends,


This week we get a blast of color in the form of Scarlet Cups (Sarcoscypha spp.). I found these vibrantly red cups on Friday at Manitou after heavy rains earlier in the week. Not only did I have a tricky time trying figure out the species, I managed to learn first-hand that these cups are a natural cosmetic.


The outside of the cup is coated in tiny, white hairs that can help determine which species of Sarcoscypha you found.
The outside of the cup is coated in tiny, white hairs that can help determine which species of Sarcoscypha you found.

Fun Facts


In a helpful coincidence, I saw a video of these mushrooms from Aimèe Cornwell, peggyfarmandforage on instagram, just a few hours after I found them (my phone doesn’t just listen to me, it tracks my every move as well). She figured out that you can use these mushrooms as a natural blush and lipstick. As I tend to be, I was influenced by the video I saw on my phone so I tried it out. I rubbed the scarlet surface of a cup vigorously on my cheeks and lips. Not only did it work, it worked well. That was an interesting one to explain to the coworkers.


Here’s the result of rubbing the red fertile surface on my finger.
Here’s the result of rubbing the red fertile surface on my finger.

A study showed that water extracts of Sarcoscypha austriaca had antioxidant and free-radical scavenging properties (Reference 2). They’re also edible. However, they’re a touch rubbery and flavorless so not necessarily a desired edible. I didn’t eat these, I guess I just drew the line at smearing them on my face.


The latin prefix Sarc- means “flesh” and scypha comes from the latin scyphus which means “cup”.


The soil around the fungus is completely turned over by invasive jumping worms. That’s why you see those round little crumbles of soil.
The soil around the fungus is completely turned over by invasive jumping worms. That’s why you see those round little crumbles of soil.

Ecology


The fungus is saprobic (a decomposer) and the mushrooms grow almost exclusively from dead, buried wood in the ground or under moss. I’ve found Scarlet Cups once before up at Manitou, two springs ago on April 15th. The peak of their season in the northeast seems to be March and April, but they can be found in February, May, and even throughout the summer.


Sarcoscypha species can be found in temperate forests throughout the northern hemisphere. The red, fertile surface is where spores are released and the white underside is hairy (moreso when young).


This Scarlet Cup found back in 2022 was much smaller and more prominently stalked. Perhaps. a different species, but this year’s cups were only found around 20 yards away.
This Scarlet Cup found back in 2022 was much smaller and more prominently stalked. Perhaps. a different species, but this year’s cups were only found around 20 yards away.

There are four recognized species of Sarcoscypha in North America and fortunately Michael Kuo made a taxonomic key to help us identify them. The species we have here today is either S. dudleyi or S. austriaca. The difference is microscopic.


Mature spores of S. dudleyi are ellipsoid (football-shaped) with rounded edges. They also have rather straight hairs on the back of the cup. Contrast that with S. austriaca which has really curly hairs and mature spores that, while football-shaped, are flattened at one end. I wasn’t able to get a definitive ID through the microscope, yet, but I’m going to keep trying so hopefully we’ll have an update next week.


Spores of the mushroom in an ascus (the tube-like encasing). The spores are shot out of the top of the ascus. You need these mature spores to ID to species.
Spores of the mushroom in an ascus (the tube-like encasing). The spores are shot out of the top of the ascus. You need these mature spores to ID to species.

Last week, I teased that I was going to be up in Boston for a research project. I visited Chaz Hing of VeryFungi to talk to him about how he used mushrooms to help treat his cancer. I’m excited to write about his story. I’ll tell ya now though, the moral of the story to is eat more mushrooms.


Bon appetit,

Aubrey


References:

  1. Kuo, M. (2012, April). The genus Sarcoscypha. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/sarcoscypha.html

  2. Piljac-Zegarac J, Samec D, Piljac A, Mesić A, Tkalcec Z. Antioxidant properties of extracts of wild medicinal mushroom species from Croatia. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2011;13(3):257-63. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v13.i3.50. PMID: 22135877.

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