It is a hardy northerner more commonly found clinging the the fjords of Norway and Sweden, or the cold pine forests of the American Pacific Northwest.

But, for the first time, a rare “fruiting” lichen known as Multiclavula corynoides has been discovered in the British Isles – growing unassumingly on a gravel road in the Highlands of Scotland.

It is not known how long the moss-like plant has been resident north of the Border and it may never have been spotted but for a lucky encounter with a lichen expert working with Scottish Natural Heritage.

The find of Multiclavula corynoides – sometimes referred to as Club-wielding Crust Lichen – was made by David Genney, Scottish Natural Heritage’s lichen expert, while he was out mountainbiking around Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Scotland.

The lichen occurs across Scandinavia, in Iceland and in northern North America but this is the first record of the species in Britain.

Most lichens are composed of a cup-fungus and an alga with distinctive circular jam-tart blooms, but this species is different because it forms tiny clubshaped “fruits” which emerge from a mat of algae and fungal threads.

It was discovered on the verge of a gravel forest road at the base of Ben Wyvis nature reserve, the slopes of which are home to a huge range of plants, mosses, liverworts and lichens.

Mr Genney said: “I was out with a couple of friends enjoying a day’s mountain-biking around Ben Wyvis. While I’m usually focused on the trail ahead and wide mountain views I also keep half an eye out for interesting plants and fungi, especially on the long, slow uphill section.

“I suppose I was secretly hoping for an excuse for a rest so was delighted when I spotted something a little different out of the corner of my eye.”

The naturalist said he had been inspired to find rare lichens by a project run by Kew gardens in London that aims to seek out unusual and undocumented fungi across the UK.

There are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi worldwide – and possibly millions more – but, because of their often remote habitats, gaining information on their whereabouts can be hard.

The Kew Gardens scheme is a five-yearlong effort calling on scientists and the public to rediscover lost species, to look for rare varieties, revisit sites known from historical records for a fresh look, and survey plausible locations for new populations.

It was with this in mind that Mr Genney managed to spot the crop of Multiclavula corynoides, despite its remote location.

He said: “I recognised it because the Kew Lost and Found Fungi project have been encouraging citizen scientists to look out for rare or under-recorded species.

“They had highlighted a related lichen as one of their target species so things like this were on my radar.

“It’s always exciting to find something you’ve never seen but for it to be a species that has never been seen in Britain before made my day.

“The discovery fills a gap in our knowledge of the global distribution of this little fungus. It’s also interesting that it was thriving on an old forestry road siding, demonstrating how nature can sometimes benefit from man-made habitats.

“It just shows the importance of keeping your eyes peeled when you’re out and about enjoying the outdoors – you never know what you might discover.”

The discovery may be down to next year’s autumn delivering perfect conditions for fungi to bloom.

A damp end to the summer and a wet autumn created fertile ground for them, with some species which usually haunt dark corners being seen in the open.

Gardeners at the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens and Partner Gardens have reported findings of unusual species, giant specimens and proliferations of “fairy rings” made of red and white-spotted toadstools.