On The Wildside

Mycena belliarum - a little fungus that has just been re-found in the lake at the Hirsel.
Mycena belliarum - a little fungus that has just been re-found in the lake at the Hirsel.

Away back in 1837, Elizabeth Bell who was a well known naturalist living in Coldstream found a small toadstool growing on the reeds in the lake at The Hirsel, Coldstream.

Specimens were collected and passed on to Dr George Johnstone, the celebrated naturalist living in Berwick, he recognised this as a new species of fungus and named it Agaricus belliarum in honour of Miss Bell, subsequent research has resulted in its name changing to Mycena belliarum.

This little fungus is only found in the autumn growing on dead reed stems right at water level. Where a reed stem has broken off just below water level the little toadstool can appear to grow straight out of the water. This Mycena only grows about an inch tall, is light fawn in colour and has gills on the underside of the cap.

It has been found on several occasions in the Fens in Norfolk, East Suffolk and Huntingdonshire but as far as I know it has never been recorded in Scotland since 1837 or anywhere in northern England.

I thought that its present status at the Hirsel should be investigated and on November 1 this year I visited the lake at the Hirsel and low and behold within five minutes of parking the car Mycena belliarum was spotted growing at water level on the dead reed stems just where it should be growing and no doubt right where Elizabeth Bell found it 179 years ago.

In the book Collins Fungi Guide it reports that this beautiful little species occurs in inaccessible and rather dangerous habitats. This I can confirm, when wading out amongst the reeds to obtain a small voucher specimen to verify that it was Miss Bells Mycena I found that the lake suddenly appeared to be bottomless, one foot did not land on hard ground and in an instant I was in over the top of my wellies and up to my knee in water and soft brown mud. Fortunately I was accompanied by a friend who was on hand to help pull me out - please take care when searching for wildlife out in the countryside.

Many of our native fungi are very under recorded and no doubt there are lots of species out in the Berwickshire countryside which have never been recorded in the County. Friends walking round the grounds of the Hirsel estate this past November have recorded over 100 different species including some special ones such as Earthstars and Birds Nest Fungi.

The next lecture in the winter programme of the Berwickshire Branch of the SWT will be in Duns Parish Church Hall on Thursday, December 1, 7.30pm, when Mike Fraser, conservation officer for the RSPB in the Borders, will talk about ‘Gardening for Wildlife (Birds, Bees and Herbaceous Borders)’. Friends and visitors welcome, admission £1.50.