In the Spotlight- the Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cup

Originally published 15 february 2015.

Woodlands offer many treats for an avid nature lover and the Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea, or Ruby Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha austriaca, are most definitely high on my list of winter treats. These beautiful fungi that occur from late November to early April are one of only a few fungi to be found at the coldest time of year and are a treat not to be missed.

The Scarlet and Ruby Elf Cups very clearly get their name from their appearance, being a brilliant scarlet red in colour, with a shape ranging from a deep cup to a shallow saucer. It is almost impossible to tell these two species apart from one another unless using a microscope, where it becomes fairly easy to distinguish between the two based on their tiny hairs. However, compared to other fungi, these two are easily identifiable from the rest.

As the Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cup begins to age, its colour can fade to orange and at this point it can be possible to confuse it with one other fungus, the Orange Peel Fungus, Aleuria aurantia. This fungus starts with a cup shape, that then grows into folds, and begins to look like orange peel. It is orange in colour and is larger than the Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cup. It also grows on soil, whereas the Elf Cups grow on decaying sticks and branches in damp areas of woodland, often covered in moss. Taking all of these details into account, it can be fairly easy to tell the difference between the species to give a correct ID.

It is perhaps the fact that it is easily identifiable that I like the Scarlet and Ruby Elf Cup fungi more so than others. Fungi are such a difficult group to learn to identify correctly and it is quite pleasant to have two that stand out so much from the majority in Britain. Yes it is impossible to tell the two Elf Cups apart by sight, but there are over 3000 types of fungi in the UK that have fruiting bodies large enough to see with the naked eye, and therefore are more easily identifiable to microfungi. Being able to narrow it down to two species from over 3000 species isn’t half bad.

However, the main reason I like the Elf Cups is their fantastic colour, at a time of year when colour is scare in the woodland. Imagine walking into a woodland in December and seeing a beautiful, bright red sprinkling of these beauties all over the floor, what a treat that would be!

Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cup Factfile.

scarlet elf cup

Latin Name: Sarcoscypha coccinea/austriaca.

Appearance: Ranging from a deep cup to a shallow saucer. Edges of the cup can split with age. Brilliant deep red in colour on the upper surface, with a paler underside that is covered in tiny white hairs. Does not have gills. Less than 5cm in size. Attached to a surface using a small and thin stalk, covered in tiny hairs.

Habitat: Woodlands. Often found on decaying sticks and branches that litter the woodland floor. Often partly buried with leaf litter or moss.

Season: Late November to early April.

Distribution in the UK: Occurs throughout the UK, being more common in the West side of the country, with S. Coccinea being the rarer of the two.

Difference between species: Found using a microscope. The Scarlet Elf Cup has slightly curved or straight microscopic hairs on the outside of the cup, whereas the Ruby Elf Cup has curly or coiled hairs. The edge of the cup in the Scarlet Elf Cup has a comb tooth like surface, whereas the Ruby Elf Cup has a unevenly thick ridged edge, which is more complete than the edge of a Scarlet Elf Cup specimen.


Types of fungi – introduction. 2015. Types of fungi – introduction. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 February 2015].

Tales of the Scarlet Elf Cup. 2015. Tales of the Scarlet Elf Cup. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 February 2015].

Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea. 2015. Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 February 2015].

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Rachel Davies

Rachel Davies

Currently studying for an MRes in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Chester. Research focuses on the White-faced Darter, an endangered dragonfly species here in Britain. Rachel also has a blog titled 'working with wildlife'.
Rachel Davies

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