Quick facts

Common names: scarlet elf cup, scarlet elf cap, red cup, scarlet cup, moss cups, fairies’ baths

Scientific name: Sarcoscypha coccinea

Family: Sarcoscyphaceae

Fruiting season: early winter to early spring

Habitat: dead wood on the woodland floor

What does scarlet elf cup look like?

As the name suggests, the caps of the scarlet elf cup are cup-shaped and scarlet, though they can also be orange in colour. They have barely discernible stems which attach to the leaf litter, giving them the appearance of hollow bowls lying on the woodland floor or on decaying branches.

Fruitbody: irregularly shaped cups that have a smooth, bright red inner surface and then a paler, downy outer surface. Cups are approximately 4cm across.

Stipe (stalk): short stem up to 3.5cm long that attaches to the leaf litter. This is mostly the same colour as the outer surface of the cup.

Gills/spores: white spore print.

Not to be confused with: the superficially identical species, Sarcoscypha coccinea.

scarlet elf cup fungi close-up

Credit: Caroline Eastwood / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to find scarlet elf cup fungus

Elf cup fungus is fairly widespread but uncommon in Britain and Ireland. It favours areas with high rainfall and can be seen on decaying sticks and branches – especially in damp areas of the woodland floor – and on ditch sides and stream banks.

Value to wildlife

Elf cup fungus is a popular food source for rodents and slugs.

Did you know?

They make a tiny puffing sound when they release their spores into the air.

Mythology and symbolism

In European folklore, it was said that wood elves drank morning dew from the cups.

scarlet elf cup fungi on rotting branch

Credit: Art Directors & TRIP / Alamy Stock Photo

Uses of elf cup fungus

Though not poisonous, it is considered inedible. It has been used as a medicine by the Oneida Native Americans to stop bleeding and was placed under bandages and on the navels of newborns to promote healing.

Did you know?

In past times, elf cups were made into arrangements with moss and leaves and sold as table decorations.