The scarlet cup is small, red, usually stalkless; the outer surface is white. Grows on fallen wet sticks and branches in damp deciduous woods. March–May. Cup shallow; outer surface white, with tiny hairs; inner surface scarlet. Stalk (if present) short, thick; white. Spore print whitish cream. Spores magnified are elliptical, smooth.
Lookalikes: The stalked scarlet cup (S. occidentalis) has a well-developed stalk and a much tinier cup (rarely more than ½ inch across). It appears later in the season than the scarlet cup. The cinnabar chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) grows on the ground.
Cup width: ¾–2 inches (usually 1½-2 inches); height: ¾–1¼ inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Grows scattered on fallen wet sticks and branches in damp deciduous woods. One of the earliest Missouri mushrooms to emerge in spring. Look on fallen twigs and branches for this bright red cup mushroom when the woods are still brown.
The scarlet cup can be induced to release a cloud of smokelike spores, if you find one at the right stage of maturity. Blow a puff of air into the cup, wait a second or two, and you might see (and hear!) a mass release of spores. (For health reasons, please don't inhale them!) Spores are produced in the lining of the cup and are released to begin new fungi elsewhere. The fungus these mushrooms arise from can live for years.
Mushrooms decorate nature the way wildflowers do, adding to our pleasure on hikes. Scarlet cups emerge in early spring, when the woods are still mostly dull brown. They are a delight to see.
Fungi are vitally important for a healthy ecosystem. This fungus feeds on dead wood, decomposing it as it goes. This cleans the forest and helps nutrients to cycle back into the soil—an unglamorous but vital role in the ecosystem.
Mushrooms are a lot like plants, but they lack chlorophyll and have to take nutrients from other materials. Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They are in a different kingdom — the fungi. Fungi include the familiar mushroom-forming species, plus the yeasts, molds, smuts, and rusts.
Always be cautious when eating edible mushrooms. Be absolutely sure of the ID, and only eat a small amount the first time you try it to avoid a reaction..