Posts

Tinder Trotter – The Hoof Funfus

As winter seems to drag on and on, all mushroom foragers seems to be stuck in some kind of ‘no mans land’ of woe and sorrow… Hey ho!

Fomes fomentariusBut many fungi are perennial and more noticeable through the winter months. They’re easier to spot since many trees are bare and no dense foliage can get in your line of sight. And although not edible, they are worth a look. Some have good uses or properties that are quite interesting (probably not everyday use), as you’ll soon discover…

The Hoof Fungus or Tinder Bracket (Fomes fomentarius) is one of these annually persistent sights. This bracket fungus will get most people’s attention as many grow (often in groups) more or less at head height on the host tree (usually birch or beech). They’re also seen on fallen trunks and logs. It’s size is pretty substantial too. Growing up to 25cm in width and height, making it quite hard to miss!

The first thing you will notice is the familiar ‘hoof shape’ with a smooth dark grey upper zone and several layered, concentric zones below. The outer surface (crust) is almost as hard as the wood on which it grows. Go on, give it a tap! The light brown flesh within is very fibrous and quite hard too, smelling very acidic and fruity. A smooth underside shows the small light grey (sometimes light grey/brown) rounded pores, and like the upper concentric zones, the tubes also grow in several layers during the life cycle.

OK, so far this fungus seems to be pretty weird and particularly bland. But here comes the interesting stuff! Over the centuries, this has been a handy piece of nature our ancestors and die-hard survivalists alike have enjoyed to use…

To reconfirm, this bracket fungus is persistent throughout the year and very durable. One key feature is that it does not burn, but simply smolders. A hollowed out Hoof fungus was used to move (or store) burning embers that would keep for days at a time. The other English name ‘Tinder bracket’ is well founded too – When dried, the inner flesh catches a spark quite easily and can burn well – useful as a good ember (see this link for more info). A recent archaeological discovery uncovered a European Iceman who also had a use for this ‘Tinder Bracket’ -See the “Ötzi the Iceman” story here.

The fun doesn’t stop there though! Until relatively recently, a common use in Germany was the craft and creation of hats and bags, using the soft and pliable mycellial core (located inside the top-centre of the fungus). I intend to get a hat myself if they’re still out there, I must!

Just like many other fungi, there are sometimes useful medicinal uses. Centuries ago, Fomes fomentarius was widely used as a styptic to stop bleeding and as a drug to treat wounds. Even today fungi are invaluable in this area. The fascinating world of fungi never ceases to amaze me.

And before I end this post, I’d like to mention that, from general web visitor feedback and personal experience (rather than official research results), I consider this fungus be a ‘common’ species in the UK (more north than south). Several reference books have stated the main habitat to be situated in and around Scotland only, but I have found no end of these throughout Leicestershire and beyond. A recent enquiry to the ‘mushroomdiary.co.uk’ was questioning this very issue with positive ID’s from the Birmingham area. Migration and declination of fungi is a continual event, and local records are sometimes not up to date, and unfortunately there are no records at all from many areas. But on recent personal research, I’ve found that the appearance of this particular fungi is increasing throughout the UK. Which is all good stuff!

Bracket fungus - Tinder Bracket

Note the concentric layers and upper grey touch surface. Bottom picture shows the underside pores. The tubes are formed in several layers during the life-cycle.

White spores of Hoof Fungus

The production of white spores can be seen on the pores in spring (these photos were taken in April). They may also drop onto the surrounding substrate (right). Most other bracket fungi shed brown spores in the autumn months.

Bulging bracket! – The Birch Polypore

It’s very rare that I do not see one of these bracket fungus when I’m out and about on a forage. They grow quite large and are around all year. It would be hard to miss one.

The Birch Polypore or Razorstrop fungus (Piptoporus betulinus) is an extremely common polypore fungus. As the name suggests, it is found exclusively on birch trees.

At maturity they are typically semicircular or kidney shaped as they grow outwards from the tree body. Shapes and sizes may differ a little but generally this is the norm. As I mentioned earlier, they can grow to a good size – between 20 – 30cm across and 8cm thick! They’re quite a sight to behold when they get to this size.

The colour is that of pure white (when younger) and as it matures it changes to a dull grey or tawny brown. It’s smooth surface often cracks, showing white flesh underneath. The consistency is spongy or slightly rubbery to the touch. These fruiting bodies can usually last from one year into the next, that is why you can see them all of the time over the winter months.

Razorstrop Fungus

Typical semi-circular/kidney shape of the Birch Polypore

On the underside the pored surface is smooth and pure white, but over time this gets marked with dark patches from age and/or insect attack.

I know what you’re thinking though. Is this fungus edible? Well, unfortunately not. It actually smells quite pleasant but it’s taste is quite bitter. It’s a shame, I know.

At least it had it’s uses even as far back as 5,300 years ago! In 1991 “Ötzi the Iceman” (Europe’s oldest natural human mummy) was discovered by German tourists in the Alps. Found in his possession were two species of polypore mushroom. One of which was the Birch Polypore (for medicinal use) which is known to have antibacterial properties. It could have also have been used to sharpen blades or tools – hence the name ‘Razorstrop’.

Polypore fungus

In the images above are some very young Birch Polypores growing out of from the bark of a fallen silver birch tree.

Dry Saddle for the nymph! Dryads Saddle

Well – it’s been the driest spring we’ve had since records began! That probably explains why I haven’t had much luck in finding some good edible spring mushrooms up for offer! But I did stumble across some large edible beauties today – unfortunately I found them too late. They were past their prime and had dried out quite a bit due to old age and the dry weather. Curses!

Large Polypore mushroomEven in this condition, they were still good examples of Dryads Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus / Polyporus squamosus) – a polypore mushroom which can grow quite large indeed as you can see from the photos. All polypores (bracket fungus growing on trees) have ‘pores’ instead of gills where the spores disperse from.

This species is a parasite (and/or Saprotroph which feeds off decaying matter) on deciduous trees such as elm, beech and sycamore causing severe ‘white rot’. They burst into life in late spring/early summer and can be found on stumps as well as living trees (often 10-15ft up the trunk) growing in layered clusters (sometimes singularly). Although edible, only young specimens are worth taking as the texture and taste of the older flesh is unappetising. (See a great simple Dryads Saddle recipe here.

Apart from it’s large dimensions (cap up to 60cm across and stem up to 7cm) other identifiable characteristics are the brown scales which are spread in a semicircular pattern across the ochre-yellow cap, the flesh of which is relatively thin. As shown in these pictures, once past it’s prime, the mushroom soon deteriorates, becoming very dry (especially helped along by this hot weather!) and infested with insects! But nevertheless they are a great site to behold when in a large group like this.

There are many old folklore stories behind mushrooms describing how they acquired their common names (sometimes several stories from several countries), and this one does not disappoint in originality. The ‘Saddle’ element derives from the shape of the cap which can sometimes resemble a horses saddle. The word Dryad means ‘Tree nymph’ in Greek mythology. I find myself imagining what the Dryads horse looks like!

Cerioporus squamosus

Drying up! Once past their prime, These polypores soon dry up and waste away. How the mighty have fallen!

In contrast to these older specimens, take a look at this very young specimen I found only a few weeks later. This little beauty is only 2 inches long. I left it to grow and I’m guessing it won’t grow that large anyway due to the fact there were older, dying fruit bodies near by – around 4-6 inches in size.

Dryads Saddle - Young

A young Dryads Saddle.

See the extra ID notes below in helping identify this fine mushroom, notably how the stem is blackish towards the base. Hope you find some too soon, this is the season…

ID Notes - Dryads Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related: Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.