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You might like to know that I have finally identified that birch fungus you are talking about. It is sometimes called Chatoquin or Bearshit but the scientific name is Innonotus obliquus. It is indeed a fungus (at first I thought it was a disease) but it is a white rot fungus rather than a brown rot like most rots we usually see. This white rot attacks the wood lignum and cellulose differently than brown rot and is responsible for forming a material which is similar in many ways to charred cloth. I am still looking into this and trying to find other fungi or material botanically related to Innonotus to try them out. For tinder, this stuff is indeed amazing. One very fine spark into it and you can't put it out! However, I've noticed that if it dries out too dry, it no longer works.
Andre Bourbeau
The imperfect form of the fungus occurs parasitically on trunks usually of Betula (birch) more rarely on Alnus (alder) and other hardwoods. The fruiting bodies of the imperfect form are conspicuous in that they are black lumps which are always found on the trunk 1-4 m above the ground. Only after the tree dies does the perfect stage develop under the bark and is often overlooked. Fruiting is annual throughout the year, found in Europe, North America and Asia. Ref. Fungi of Switzerland, Volume 2 (non gilled fungi), eds J Breitenbach & F Kranzlin, Verlag Mykologia, CH-6000 Lucerne 9, Switzerland.
Paul F Hamlyn
Inonotus obliquus is a common fungus and there is a great deal of information published about it. You can find some in forest pathology books and some in books on systematics of polypores. I am surprised that it catches a spark so well. It is not the fungus known as "tinder fungus," which is Fomes fomentarius.
Jim Worrall
Inonotus obliquus was used frequently as a tinder and there are a number of "mushroom" identification books with information. Do you want references? There are also several other fungi that were used for tinder and appear to be superior to I. obliquus. Fomes fomentarius has been used in Europe as well as the US and Canada - and used by Native Americans. In the pacific northwest, Native Americans used other fungi such as Phaeolus schweinitzii.
Robert A. Blanchette
I have a Native friend in this area who lights all his ceremonial fires using flint and steel (although he is very secretive about his materials. I get the sense in talking to him that he uses some kind of flint/iron pyrite combo. I will hopefully have an opportunity to talk to him more about the details in the future and you can be sure I will post what I can here at that time). What I am sure about is what he uses for tinder and I have since found references to the same material in books by Mors Kochanski and others. He uses the spongy, brown part of the true Tinder Fungus which is the strange looking growths on the sides of live birch trees. He has been very firm in his insistance that it needs to come from a live birch tree. The fungus looks kind of like a "burned growth" and differs significantly from false tinder fungus which has a more uniform and shelf like appearance. I know the "false tinder" fungus is not easy at all to crumble. It sort of has the consistancy of dry hardwood.
Mark Zanoni
I've made numeous fires from both the tinder fungus and the false tinder fungus mentioned in Mors Kochanski's book. You may have fun finding scientific name for the "true tinder fungus" as I not yet convinced that its a fungus at all. I believe it is more like a "burl" or "Conk" not unlike you would find on an aspen. The consistancy from the inner portion looks, feel, and crumbles exactly the way that cork does. Its great stuff and has many uses. for firestarting it makes a great long lasting ember. The false tinder fungus definitly will not crumble, in fact you have to slice thin pieces off the layer found just under the outer shell, and then process by boiling in a hard wood ash slurry, and drying. Both these work well with sparks from my axehead or knife.
Kelly Harlton
A burl is part of the tree or shrub. I don't remember my botany all that well, but I think burl is all meristematic tissue, which means you can grow a new tree from it. A lot of woody plants that grow in areas of frequent fires sport underground burls that allow them to rise like the proverbial phoenix after a blaze. A "conk" is just a common name for any big ole polypore fungus stuck to the side of a tree. It's a lot harder than your average mushroom, but it's still a fungus.
John Wall