Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Clavaria zollingeri – the violet coral

Clavaria zollingeri

Clavaria zollingeri Lév.
Family: Clavariaceae

This is a very distinctive fungus that is typical of old unfertilised grasslands, a habitat that is greatly under threat. It is one of the ‘Fairy Clubs’ and with its dramatic purple colours and coralline appearance, it is a unique and attractive fungus.

In brief

  • Only found recently at three sites in Northern Ireland

  • Found in unfertilised grasslands including domestic lawns and churchyards as well as semi-natural grasslands

  • Recorded in Northern Ireland from September to November

  • This is a rare species in Northern Ireland and is a good indicator of sites with rich fungal diversity

  • The main threats are due to the application of fertilisers in agriculture and gardening, habitat neglect, reduction of habitat and lack of awareness.

Species description
The fruiting body grows in a dense clump of branching and forking clubs reminiscent of a branching coral. It can be up to 10cm tall with the branches up to 5mm thick. Each branch repeatedly forks. The colour is usually purple to violet but these colours can wash out to grey or brown with age and after rain. Microscopically, it has no clamps on the joins of the hyphae (the fungal building block cells) or the base of the basidia (the structure the spores form upon). It is thought to be a saprotroph, breaking down dead grass and moss, thus playing an important role in the nutrient cycle. Stable isotope analysis suggests that the fairy clubs break down organic material in the lower soil horizons, possibly even deeper than the waxcaps.

Life cycle
The earliest fruiting body recorded in Northern Ireland was found on 14 September and the latest on 2 November.

Similar species
There are other fairy clubs that share the same branching coralline form as C. zollingeri but these are in different genera. Clavulinopsis umbrinella (=cinereoides) is similar in form, but pale grey to brownish-grey in colour. It also has clamps on its hyphae. Ramariopsis kunzei is white and has finely warty spores.

How to see this species
Recent records for this species are from Barnetts Demesne (in the grassland between Malone House and the river), Kilskeery Parish Church near Trillick in Tyrone and from near Banagher Glen in County Londonderry. There is also an old record from Clandeboye Estate. Habitat preferences are that the grass sward is usually short, moss rich and poor in nutrients. The species has been recorded in Northern Ireland from September to November. Relevant access permissions should always be sought prior to visiting any sites.

Current status
This species has been recorded four times in Northern Ireland. One is an old record from 1948 from Clandeboye Estate, but there is no further information about this record. The other records are from Barnetts Demesne, from near Trillick in Tyrone and from near Banagher Glen in County Londonderry. This is a species with scattered records across the British Isles with a tendency to be found more regularly in the north and west.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • This species is rare and declining with Northern Ireland being the Irish stronghold.

It is an excellent indicator of old unfertilised grasslands. Data from the Northern Ireland Countryside Survey would indicate that this habitat is decreasing in extent.

Threats/Causes of decline
The main reasons for decline are agricultural intensification (primarily the application of phosphorus) and the reduction of habitat. Grassland neglect where the sward becomes rank also restricts fruiting, although it is not clear if this affects the organism under the ground. In the urban environment, the application of lawn fertilisers, fungicides and moss killers can also affect the species.

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • A grassland fungi survey funded by EHS for the whole of Northern Ireland 2002-2004 produced a good overview of the distribution of the species

  • Production of Grassland Fungi conservation leaflet by Fungal Conservation Forum

  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans for Lowland Meadow, Lowland Dry Acid Grassland and Calcareous Grassland.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain the number of viable populations of this species

  • Publicise conservation value of this species amongst managers of existing / potential sites

  • Research into ecological requirements.

What you can do
This is a distinctive species that indicates that any site where it is found could be particularly rich in grassland fungi. Any new records should be reported to the Northern Ireland Fungus Group. Records can be sent in using online recording forms or by contacting

Further information

Northern Ireland Fungus Group

Information on waxcaps

NBN Gateway

British Mycological Society

British Waxcap website

Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

Henning and Knudsen (1997). Nordic Macromycetes Vol. 3.This is a general guide that contains keys to Clavaria.

Henrici, A. (1997). Keys to British Clavariaceae. Unpublished.

Marriot, J. (2005). New keys to the Clavariod and Ramarioid fungi. The Forayer Vol. 1(3) .

Evans, S. (2004). Waxcap-grasslands — an assessment of English sites. English Nature Research Report No. 555.

Griffith, G.W., Easton, G.L. and Jones, A.W. (2002). Ecology and Diversity of Waxcap (Hygrocybe spp.) Fungi. Botanical Journal of Scotland 54(1) , pp. 7-22. (download as scanned pdf file 3.8Mb).

McHugh, R., Mitchel, D., Wright, M. and Anderson, R. (2001). The fungi of Irish grasslands and their value for nature conservation. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 101B (3) , pp. 225-242. (download as pdf from RIA website 650kb).

Newton, A.C., Davy, L.M., Holden, E., Silverside, A., Watling, R. and Ward, S.D. (2002). Status, distribution and definition of mycologically important grasslands in Scotland. Biological Conservation 111, 11-23.

Text written by:
David Mitchel

iNaturalist: Species account : iNaturalist World Species Observations database