Our fungal friends

I had noticed a couple of articles while wandering through Beacon Hill in Loughborough. Two large grey masses adorning a silver birch, much resembling shuttlecocks. The second time I saw them I stopped to photograph them, then later in the day I posted the photo on the Mushroom Identification Forum, a group on Facebook. On this group thousands of people from all over the world with an interest in all things fungal, post their images onto the group for others to identify and enjoy. At this moment in time it is one of the only reasons I visit this wretched social media platform.

I have recently developed an interest, at first I took photos of the pictures as a joke so as to make myself appear extraordinary to my peers, but then a genuine curiosity for these strange woodland ornaments started to blossom.

Genetically humans are more similar to plants than plants are to mushrooms. All I needed was to learn that one fact for my curiosity levels to hit the roof. The inquiry began. What in the Lord’s sacred name are these organisms? If the fact above doesn’t merit your curiosity, then surely nothing about any living thing could. Let go of your aesthetic prejudices, give your fungal cousins a chance. We’re all trying to get by in life, it’s just that these guys go about it in a very different way.

A few of my contributions are as follows-

Turkey tail


Cappuccino fungus
No idea
Chicken of the woods- apparently if you fry this one up and apply the right level of seasoning it tastes just like chicken

And the fungus in question, which is the featured image, turned out to be Fomes fomentarius and has a series of highly entertaining English names. My picks are hoof fungus, tinder conk and iceman fungus. The first because it is shaped like a horse’s hoof. The second because of its utility for the starting of fires. The third because four pieces were found on the person of Otzi, a man whose body finally surfaced after the 5300 year process of being mummified in ice.

In this video you can see our favourite bushcraft master putting it to good use. He also alludes to a fungus called King Alfred’s Cake, coal fungus, or cramp balls. You can light it and carry it around with you, no flame and you got yourself a portable fire. What a technology that must have been at the time, when your fire was your life. 

I think these guys could well be the unsung heroes of the natural world.

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