Friday, February 6, 2004
Biodiversity Corner Tinder polypore
When and where found: I was roaming in the Conant Land on Sunday, February 1, in an optimistic mood looking for mushrooms. I did find some fresh ones — bright orange jelly fungi on a fallen pine log but they were very tiny. In the winter you are much more likely to see hard woody perennial mushrooms like the Tinder polypore. I have found specimens in the Towle woods, the Conant Land, and Carlisle Pines. It is quite widespread and can probably be found in all the woods in town. Its favorite host tree seems to be birch but it can also be found on maple, beech, hickory, poplar and cherry. The ones I saw in the Conant Land on Sunday were on birch.
By the way: I'm often asked about the difference between mushrooms, fungi and toadstools. A mushroom is the fruiting body of a fungus. It's the part that we generally see, and for edible species it's the part we eat. The rest of the fungal body is usually hidden from sight in the ground, under bark, or in the heartwood of a tree where it may live for months or years without any outward sign. The itchy stuff between your toes is fungus. Dermatologists and pathologists only say mushroom when they're in the kitchen or the dining room. Toadstool has no scientific definition and is usually reserved for mushrooms thought to be poisonous.
Distinguishing characteristics: The Tinder polypore is a hard, ridged, hoof-shaped mushroom with bands of color in various shades of gray or brown. It can be anywhere from two to eight inches in width, and it may be taller than it is wide. It has no stalk; you find it attached directly to either living or dead tree trunks. The lower surface which is pale at first and later turns brown, has many tiny pores (hence polypore). Each year a new layer of vertical, spore-bearing tubes is added to the lower surface. If you slice through the mushroom you can determine its age by counting the number of layers of tubes.
Harm: The Tinder polypore causes a white rot in both the sapwood and the heartwood of the trees it infects. By the time the mushrooms appear, much damage has been done and the tree has little value as timber.
Usefulness: The name of the Tinder polypore is a reference to the days when it was used as tinder to start a fire. At one time the process for turning the fungus into tinder involved boiling bits of the fungus in urine to concentrate nitrates into the fungus; then draining and drying it. Tinder polypore was also used for transporting fire. The woody part of the mushroom was shredded and hammered into a felt-like material which could smolder for long periods of time. This felt-like material was also used on wounds to stop bleeding, or was sewn into larger pieces for making garments.
Don't leave home without it: The famous "iceman," the 5,000-year-old Neolithic man found in 1991 in a glacier near the Austrian-Italian border, was traveling light. Among his few possessions was Tinder polypore and flint stones.
References: Tom Volk's Fungi at http://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/dec2001.html; Gary H. Lincoff, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms.
Moose alert: Be on the lookout for moose. Last week Annalise Fosnight of Davis Road found moose tracks in her backyard.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito