Conservation experts in the Highlands are to use mushrooms to help restore 20,000 trees to their natural beauty.
The innovative trial, beginning this spring, will see experts and volunteers add a special mix of spores collected from fungus to the soil while planting seedlings on the Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston.
A pinch of black granules containing the spores will be added to the planting holes of 20,000 trees in one area of the estate in a bid to boost reforestation on the estate.
The trial is being undertaken by Highland charity Trees for Life during its popular volunteer Conservation Weeks running this spring.
During these volunteering weeks, participants plant some 130,000 trees annually at Dundreggan, and also grow more than 60,000 trees a year in the estate’s tree nursery.
Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s Operations Manager at Dundreggan said: “In tough, windswept environments such as those where we plant, newly planted trees need all the help they can get – especially in their early years. This magical mushroom mixture could speed up the return of the Caledonian Forest and its wildlife.”
The results of this trial will be monitored to see if treating selected trees and seedlings in this way improves their growth and decreases the need for fertiliser application. It is hoped the trees will have greater resistance to drought and heat, and protection against pests.
Mycorrhizal fungi live underground on tree roots in a mutually beneficial relationship that has evolved over 400 million years. Many plants cannot survive without the fungi. In the autumn, some of these fungi form fruiting bodies, or mushrooms, above the ground.
The trees provide sugars for the fungi and in return, the fungi’s powerful enzymes break down and release nutrients such as phosphorus and iron which helps feed the trees. Young trees inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi suffer much less from heat stress, drought and the shock of planting.
“Mycorrhizal fungi are one of our greatest allies for reforesting degraded landscapes – but they have been lost from soils because of issues including deforestation and overgrazing. By reintroducing them we can help trees,” said Jacob, who runs Chaos Fungorum, a business supplying these mixes for trees.