One of the earliest spring mushrooms is the snowbank orange peel fungus (Caloscypha fulgens). When growing at higher elevations, it is often found near melting snowbanks. These snowbank orange peel fungi were growing along the Castle Crest Trail at Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) in June.
Most common in western mountains, snowbank orange peel fungus also occurs across North America as well as Europe and temperate Asia. Its habitat is boggy areas and mountain coniferous forests where it grows singly or in clusters on mossy ground or leaf litter.
Snowbank orange peel fungi are cup-shaped with bright orange upper sides and yellowish to brownish undersides. When young, these fungi are more spherical with inrolled margins. With age snowbank orange peel fungi become more irregular, more lobed and sometimes nearly flat. Occasionally they are split down one side and appear lopsided. Essentially sessile (without stems), there is sometimes a short stem. The flesh is brittle and turns greenish-blue to olive where bruised or injured and with age. The spores are smooth, round and whitish. An albino form of snowbank orange peel fungus has been found in Idaho.
The Caloscypha genus originally contained a second species, C inaculata, from Italy and North Africa. Recently this second species was moved into its own genus leaving Caloscypha as a monospecies genus.
Information on edibility is mixed with various sources calling snowbank orange peel fungus edible, poisonous to some people and “unknown”. In any case these mushrooms are small enough to negate collecting them for culinary purposes.
Snowbank orange peel fungus is a parasite of conifer seeds (particularly spruce and firs). As a result of this parasitism, they often occur where squirrels stash their seed-bearing cones.
There are a couple other “orange peel” fungi that closely resemble C fulgens, the most common being Aleuria aurantia, known as orange peel fungus. Spring occurrence AND the blue-staining are two characteristics that help identify snowbank orange peel fungus.
Other common names for this interesting cup mushroom are blue-staining fungus and spring orange peel fungus.