I have been trying to find tinder fungus in the wild since I first heard about it a few years back. I could have ordered some on ebay or other websites, but where’s the fun in that when I can rip it off a tree myself? Birch trees apparently don’t like to grow in warmer climates or lower altitudes, since I would rarely come across them on a hike in my area. This is a problem, since tinder fungus grows on birch trees.
I was in the Smokies last weekend and was only able to go on one short hike, but it was a nice hike out to Andrew’s Bald. There were birch trees all along the trail, so I spent the whole hike moseying along and checking out each birch tree to see if I could find some tinder fungus within reach. This was also a great excuse to go slow since I am old and fat. Luckily, there were a few trees along the trail with the fungus growing on them. I got slightly over-excited when I saw the first two (yes, I know that I am a huge dork), so I don’t have any pictures of what mature tinder fungus looks like when on a tree. I did manage to calm myself long enough to snap a couple of shots of some young tinder fungus that had not yet developed the darker outer layer.
Here is some more mature tinder fungus with the darker outer layer that looks like burnt wood:
The inner portion of the tinder fungus is rust colored and relatively hard for a fungus:
Here is all the crap I picked up on the trail. There is some birch bark (off a fallen tree), several pieces of tinder fungus, a piece of what I think is false tinder fungus, and some pine sap. Pine sap burns about as well as water, in case anyone was wondering. That doesn’t make much sense to me since fatwood burns so well, but maybe it is a different type of resin/sap in the base of the trunk. We need some arborists on this site to help clear up my ignorance.
So what is the big deal about tinder fungus, you ask? OK, maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m telling you anyway! Tinder fungus can take a spark very easily and hold an ember for a very long time. I will not really burn, but it will smolder for hours if you take care of it, so you can have a fire source for a very long time if you are having trouble getting your fire started or need to transport an ember. I got an ember going in a little piece maybe 1/2″ across and left it on the concrete in my backyard while taking care of the carnage my dog wrought in my vegetable garden. It was still going strong after about 15 minutes of just sitting there and had consumed very little of the piece.
Granted, a lighter and some store bought fire starters are an awful lot easier to use and start a fire with. You could have zero knowledge of tinder fungus your whole outdoor life and be fine, but I like knowing that I can grab a piece of fungus off a tree and use it to help me start some fires.