Article originally published in the Assynt News during May 2014
Gourmet mushrooms found at Achmelvich!
On the 7th May 2014 a French volunteer working with Ingrid Ritchie at Achmelvich found several unusual fungi growing at the start of the small path leading to Altanabradhan. At first he thought they were morels, a genus of edible mushrooms much sought after as a culinary delicacy. But it wasn’t quite right and so brought them back for closer examination. That is when the rangers were involved. What was confusing was the habitat –they were growing on the machair near the edge of the sand dunes not the normal habitat you would expect. At one point we were thinking it was a rare dune stinkhorn. However, identification was later confirmed by Ian Evans at Nedd and Professor Bruce Ing from Lochbroom as indeed a morel fungi. However it was not the common morel but the black morel Morchella elata.
According to the National biodiversity network there are only a few records for this fungi in Scotland and indeed the closest records to here is on the Abernethy nature reserve near Aviemore. It is mainly a south of England species but is increasing and spreading, especially in the Midlands of England, where bark mulch is its stronghold habitat.
The books will say the correct habitat for black morels is woodland and forest and occasionally in gardens and parks where bark mulch has been laid to reduce the need for weeding. Black Morels can sometimes spring up in vast swathes in this habitat, but unfortunately their appearance one year is no guarantee of a crop of morels in future years.
So how it came to be growing at Achmelvich is even more of a mystery. Perhaps it came from fire wood logs brought from the Culag woods. It would be good if we could find some here.
It was only then that it was brought to my attention of an unpublished as yet, database of fungi in Assynt created by the late John Blunt of Nedd. He mentions two records of black morel Morchella elata – one in Nedd on the 24th April 2001 and a large stand on the bark mulch around the petrol station at Safeways in Inverness on the 9th May 2000.
Although black morel are highly prized edible mushrooms, Morels of all types, including Morchella elata, must always be cooked thoroughly; otherwise they can cause severe stomach pains and sickness. So keep a look out and please let me know if you ever see one locally. Thanks.
Highland Council Ranger Service