Welcome to a new drive to post on the website from your friendly Knoydart rangers, Finlay and Drew. We’ve been rangers for a wee while here on Knoydart and have been finding lots of really interesting hidden places on some of our excursions around Knoydart, even close to home in the area right by the pier and road near to Inverie.

Just yesterday we were very lucky to find a great load of Chanterelle mushrooms growing in the conifer plantation that looms large over the buildings that look out over Loch Nevis including The Old Forge pub, The Shop, the Pottery and Tea Room and the Knoydart Community Hall.

Fairy Ring

So this was really interesting not only from the perspective of finding a large number of mushrooms but also in the arrangement of the mushrooms themselves. What we call “mushrooms” are really only the fruiting body of a fungus which is usually much, much larger. In fact all the mushrooms in the picture above are probably part of one large fungal organism which centres on the downy birch in the midst of a bunch of conifers that make up the plantation. The birch has probably grown after an opening was made in the canopy and light could reach the forest floor.

All around the birch tree, a network of fine filaments called hyphae will be found close to the surface but practically invisible to the naked eye. This is also part of the whole fungus and certain types of fungi seem to favour certain types of trees more than others. The fungus and tree roots combine in a relationship known as Mycorrhizal symbiosis (myco- “fungi” and- rhizal “roots”). This is a mutually beneficial arrangement because each of the partners helps to provide resources to the other. In most natural forests the networks of hyphae are so extensive and so overlapping that it would be hard to distinguish where one ends and one begins.

But not so in this case. Here it is obvious that the host tree is the birch in the middle and the hyphae extend pretty much equally in all directions from it. Also the outer perimeter of the hyphae are pretty well defined by the mushrooms that have emerged from the ends of the hyphae. The other trees nearby in the wood which are mostly conifer don’t have an obvious mycorrhizal relationship although we did find a number of different fungi species in this wood.

This type of pattern is sometimes known colloquially as a “fairy ring”. This might sound very sweet and pleasant but actually in Scotland fairies were not necessarily beings you would want to mess with. Parents would have told their kids stories about the fairies (Sìth in Gaelic – pronounced “Shee”) including the Ban-Sìth (“Banshee”) and this generally was done as a warning to stay away from those things that were associated with them. This would also serve a practical purpose as fungi can contain deadly toxins as do some other plants such as Fox-glove which is called Lus nam Ban-Sìth (Plant of the Fairy Woman) in Gaelic.

Come back to visit to read more about our work and explorations here in Knoydart and watch out for the Sìth!