Friend or foe? Unmasking fascinating fungi at Dawyck

Fly agaric

Reaching out from another kingdom to shape the way we all live our lives fungi are integral to our health, wealth: the very air we breath. So why are they so little understood: pigeonholed as breakfast accompaniments or poisonous fiends to be avoided in the fields? Some of the answers are on hand at Dawyck Botanic Garden, near Stobo, in the Scottish Borders where the engaging new exhibition A fascination for fungi runs until November 30.

Celebrating the beautiful and bizarre world of fungi through a range of media, including fresh and preserved specimens – and some of the colourful crafts they inspire - A fascination pays tribute to the career of Professor Roy Watling FRSE MBE, the internationally renowned mycologist who instigated the world’s first Reserve and Cryptogamic Sanctuary for fungi and the lower plants at Dawyck in 1993.

The former Head of Mycology at Dawyck’s parent organisation, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Roy initially staged fungal forays at Dawyck after it came into the care of RBGE in 1969. It was during such forays that the scope and detailed occurrence of the amazing range of fungi began to be revealed.

“With the cooperation of successive curators, appreciating the special protection that being in a botanic garden affords, we have encouraged parts of the Heron Wood Reserve to become an outdoor experimental laboratory”, he explained. “This is important because so little is still known about fungi. For example, while Scotland has around 1,200 species of flowering plants, it could have as many as 8,000 species of fungi. We just don’t know, not enough research has been done in mycology.

“But, when you put it into context with the way fungi touch our lives – from our beers and wines, breads and cheeses to the penicillin that heals us: the very existence of  the forests which create the air we breath – there is a desperate need for more research in this field: there is still so much to be learned from the kingdom of fungi. As well as raising awareness within the scientific community we also need to engage the public and exhibitions such as this play an important role in explaining why anyone should care”.

The significance of the scientific studies at Dawyck, and the implications of staging the exhibition there were underscored by Alan Bennell, Head of Visitor Communication at RBGE, creator of A fascination for fungi and a mycologist: Thanks to the research of Professor Watling, the richly planted grounds of Dawyck Botanic Garden have been one of the most intensively studied sites for fungi in the world. This exhibition seeks to celebrate the remarkable fungal diversity here in the heart of the Borders”.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)