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In my recent post about the fungi King Alfred’s Cakes, I mentioned that one of its other common names is cramp balls. It seems, in times past, folk believed that if you carried around these little fungi you wouldn’t suffer from night cramps. No one seems to know why they believed this!

160127 king alfreds cakes (1)

There is, however, another reason to carry cramp balls – they make good tinder. For this reason, cramp balls are also known as coal fungus and carbon balls, though they won’t light just by holding a match to them. The balls first need to be mature and very dry, and then it’s best to slice them in half and use something like a flint and steel to produce a spark. The cramp ball will smoulder, rather than produce a flame – for that you need something like straw or small twigs to start your fire.

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When you cut open the cramp ball, you will see concentric rings of grey and black inside (hence its scientific name Daldinia concentrica). These are similar to the growth rings inside a tree, though here they each represent a season of reproduction. Who would think that a small black lump of fungus could be so interesting?