• Polypore Fungi in Primitive Fire Making

    Flint and Marcasite On Tinder Fungus (unaltered)

    Letting the Tourists Do the Work For Me
    (pulverized white rot wood on trail)

    Using his index and middle fingers on his bow-hand he takes up the slack from the stretching cordage, which secures the cordís grip on the rotating spindle. Pressing the hand-hold down harder with his other hand, Jeff increases the speed of the bow-draw. Whitish-buff smoke emanates from the socket as more char pours into the notch. After a few more seconds a hint of bright red color emerges from the notch as the char reaches approximately 800-degrees Fahrenheit and spontaneously combusts.

    Tinder Nest--Brown Rot (good for ember)
    On White Rot (goods for flame) and Moss
    Now it was time to add the coal, or fire-egg, to a nest of fuel from which it could hatch into fire. Earlier in the day Jeff had kneaded some dry sagebrush bark into a bowl-shaped mass. He then filled the depression in the middle of this bark nest with shredded bits of red-belted conk (Fomitopsis pinicola). On top of this a pinch of flowering cattail fluff was added to ensure a gentle gradation of fuel sizes so that the coal could grow hot enough to produce flame.
    Stone Oil/Fat Lamp With Fungal (Red-Belted Conk) Wick

    Using a thin stick to separate the coal from the confines of the hearthboard, while cradling the coal on the thin piece of bark, Jeff transfers the ember to the nest. Blowing gently on this tinder bundle, the coal engulfs the fuels and produces flame in just a few seconds. A spark was planted inside me at that very moment.

    Bow drill fire-making tinder is but one primitive use of polypores. Recently Iíve focused my efforts on a variety of fire-making ways, from flint and steel (spark-based) to fire plow (lateral friction--as Tom Hanks demonstrated in the movie Castaway) to bow drill and hand drill (rotational friction), among others. Having experimented with a few thousand combinations of woods available here and the central coast section of California (my former residence), I find myself yearning to include lesser-tried natural materials--which brings me to the pyro-properties of polypores. The most common sizeable conks around here are red-belted conk (Fomitopsis pinicola), hemlock varnished conk (Ganoderma tsugae), and artistís conk (Ganoderma applanatum), of which all are currently (August) blossoming in a burgeoning bouquet of baby buttons on stumps and downed logs. Also, i was sent some birch polypore (Piptoporus betulina) and tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) from Ohio to experiment with.
    {mospagebreak} I have already explained the bow drill process, which can be seen in the accompanying photos. Aside from being used as tinder, certain polypores can also be used as hearthboards (see photos). Compared to other esoteric hearthboard materials (rock, shell, antler, bone) that I have used, shelf fungi work better by far. These polypores have generated coals in conjunction with a wooden spindle: artistís conk, red-belted conk, birch polypore and tinder fungus. Casual observation indicates that these fungal hearthboards produce hotter, longer-lived embers than those derived solely from wood.
    Starting the "Bush Stove" (Artist's Conk)

    In general, the amount of effort required to produce fire by utilizing shelf fungi as hearthboards and tinder is less than that expended using wood. I suspect this is the case because shelf fungi can dry out more quickly than wood, since the pore layer (from which the mushroomís spores fall from) provides a conduit for the quick evaporation of moisture. One might also consider the diet that certain members of this mushroom family enjoys. As shelf fungi infect the trunk of a tree, it either digests cellulose (the substance that plant cell walls are made out of), leaving a brown rot, or cellulose and lignin (the glue that holds plant cell walls together), creating a white rot. Iíve had more success doing bow drill and hand drill on species that digest cellulose and lignin to produce a white rot (e.g. red-belted conk). Cellulose is comprised of glucose molecules linked primarily by glycosidic bonds. When metabolised, it decomposes into fatty acids, which are said to be volatile.

    The hand drill (see photo) is structurally similar to the bow drill, but the bow and hand-hold are replaced by your strength. Bearing down on a longer, thinner spindle requires more stamina and power in order to achieve a coal in this manner. However, the intrinsic mystical simplicity of ďrubbing two sticks togetherĒ and creating fire, without the technological evolution of the bow, strongly endears me to this method of friction fire. To date, Iíve only used the artistís conk as a hearthboard successfully with hand drill. How amazing it would be to drill an ember on a shelf fungus while it remained attached to the host tree!

    Boiling Water On the Bush Stove