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Hygrocybe aurantipes is an Australian mushroom in the waxcap family. It is considered to be “vulnerable” by conservationists, meaning that unless action is taken, the mushroom may be in danger of extinction. This rare mushroom has a very distinctive appearance which makes it easy to identify, when it can be found, and it is rare enough that it currently has no common name.
This fungus was first collected in 1990, in the Lane Cove Bushland Park, and it was officially written up in 1999. The fact that this mushroom was discovered only in the later part of the 20th century illustrates the fact that new species really are found constantly, even in settled areas. Australia is somewhat famous for having unusual plant and animal species which hide in plain sight, thanks to the fact that the continent is so large and so sparsely settled; biologists have even found creatures believed to be extinct in parts of Australia. Australia's incredible biological diversity may be due to the fact that it is comparatively isolated, making it easier for delicate plants and animals to survive.
Like other waxcap mushrooms, Hygrocybe aurantipes has a distinctively textured cap with a waxy feeling which sometimes leaves a residue on the hands. The mushroom prefers to grow in leaf mold and other aggregates of organic material, and it has only been found in Eastern Australia thus far, typically in moist, forested regions.
The specific epithet aurantipes, or “golden-footed,” is a reference to the distinctive appearance of Hygrocybe aurantipes; the mushroom has a dull olive brown cap and a brilliant golden stem and gills. Hygrocybe aurantipes has a bare stem and a cap which starts out in a conical shape before flattening with age; the spore print of this fungus is white, and the mushroom is generally very small.
Because Hygrocybe aurantipes looks so unique, extensive keying is not required to identify it, unless the mushroom has aged, in which case the golden color is sometimes dulled. Now that the fungus has been identified and described as a unique species, biologists can keep a closer eye out for it in surveys, hopefully learning more about the range of the mushroom and steps which could be taken to preserve it. Because Hygrocybe aurantipes is vulnerable, it is preferable to photograph specimens in situ, rather than collecting them.