Small to medium sized mushroom. Bowl shaped, with a deep red inside and a felty white to pink outside. Bowls start out small and grow larger. Older bowls open up into plates. There is a small stalk under the bowl, most noticeable when they are very young. Spores are produced inside the bowl and released as clouds into the wind. Sometimes it produces smaller cups inside the larger ones, as at lower right and center. Fruits in late winter to early spring, but sometimes into early summer; generally one of the earliest fungi to appear each year.
Grows on rotting wood, usually buried wood, so it appears to lie on the ground. There is a healthy population in Wildwood below Adam's Cave, near the streamside trail.
The brilliant red bowls or plates are distinctive and unlikely to be confused with any other fungus except stalked scarlet cup (S. occidentalis) which is smaller, fruits later, and has a more obvious stalk. Shaggy scarlet cup (Microstoma floccosum) is also smaller and covered with shaggy white hairs. Eyelash cup (Scutellinia scutellata) is smaller still and has a fringing ring of hairs.