Carbon Balls

Saturday September 8, 2018

Carbon Balls (Daldinia Concentica) are known by several names.  Coal Balls, Cramp Balls and King Alfred’s Cake are also localized terms for the mushroom.  The latter name being perhaps the most interesting.  Alfred the Great lived from 849 to 899 and at one point was in exile.  While in hiding he was left in charge of the cakes which burned after he fell asleep.  While hiking on Saturday we encountered this tree with black stains like spray paint on it.  Closer inspection revealed the black to be a stain from spores of the carbon ball fungus that is growing there.


Carbon balls prefer dead ash trees and with the amount of damage done by the emerald ash borer there should be plenty of habitat for them now.  The blacker examples make great fire starters.  Once split they start smoldering from a spark and will carry on burning for an extended length of time.  Various cultures have used them as a means of carrying fire from one location to the next.


They grow to just under two inches and there were a couple of examples close to that size.


These mushrooms survive over the winter with a reduced growth rate that results in a series of concentric rings that are described by the Latin name.  The growth rings suggest that this example is about 12 or 13 years old.  The ostilole can be seen like a crack in the cross section and is used for the release of spores.  This mushroom is inedible.


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