Week of December 19 – 25, 2021

Morgan Ingraham Staff Member and Environmental Educator

by Morgan Ingraham, Environmental Educator

Fire has been one of nature’s most cherished gifts to humans for millions of years. Fire offers protection from predators, the ability to cook food, life-saving warmth, and light in darkness. Before electricity, ancient humans relied on fire during winter’s long, dark, cold nights. Still today, during dark winter months, fires are a source of comfort and survival.

The ability to keep fires going for longer periods of time was incredibly important. One of the ways that ancient humans would do this is through the use of amadou, the flammable substance found in the Tinder Polypore or Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius). The common name for this fungus is apt due to the tough, hoof-like shape of the fruiting body and their use as slow-burning fire-starters. These tough mushroom “conks” are found primarily on birch trees as a parasite, or as a decomposer of dead wood. As an extra bonus for fire-makers, birch bark is highly flammable and useful for kindling. 

Wide archeological evidence supports that Tinder Polypores have been used for thousands, if not millions, of years. A famous example of this was the discovery of “Otzi the Iceman ”, a 5000 year-old Neolithic man whose body was found preserved inside a glacier in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. Inside Otzi’s satchel was a collection of Tinder Polypores along with flint. 

This winter, as we collectively experience some of the longest nights of the year, we honor the gift that Tinder Polypores (and birch trees on which they grow) have brought us since the dawn of humanity: light, warmth, and quite possibly survival itself.