King Alfred's Cake

Daldinia concentrica

The inedible fungus ''Daldinia concentrica'' is known by several common names, including King Alfred's Cake, cramp balls, and coal fungus. It can be found in North America, South America and Europe, where it lives on dead and decaying wood, especially on felled ash trees. It is a common, widespread saprotroph.

The fungus is ball-shaped, with a hard, friable, shiny black fruiting body 2 to 7 centimeters wide. It resembles a chunk of coal, which gives it several of its common names, including coal fungus and carbon balls. According to legend, King Alfred once hid out in a countryside homestead during war, and was put in charge of removing baking from the oven when it was done. He fell asleep and the cakes burned. ''Daldinia concentrica'' is said to resemble a cake left to this fate.

The flesh of the fungus is purple, brown, or silvery-black inside, and is arranged in concentric layers. Each layer represents a season of reproduction. The asci are cylindrical and arranged inside the flask-shaped perithecium. When each ascus becomes engorged with fluid it extends outside the perithecium and releases spores.

''D. concentrica'' contains several unique compounds, including a purple pigment from a perylene quinone and a metabolite called concentricol, which is oxidized squalene. Many types of insects and other small animals make their home inside this species of fungus.
Cramp Balls - Daldinia concentrica Irregularly shaped fungus. Its surface was brown and powdery. When I pulled it off the wood, black liquid oozed out. The inside was wet and black with concentric, solid zones and felt similar to charcoal. 

Habitat: Spotted on birch in a deciduous forest.

Fun facts:

 #1 - The common name "cramp ball" refers to the old folk belief that carrying one around in your armpit would cure cramps!

#2 - It is also known in Britain as "King Alfred's cakes". King Alfred was fleeing a battle when he took refuge in an old woman's house. The old woman, not knowing he was the king, left Alfred in charge of watching some cakes in the oven. He didn't know how to cook, fell asleep, and the cakes burned. So, this fungus gained this common name since it resembles burnt cakes.
https://www.jungledragon.com/image/66605/cramp_balls_-_daldinia_concentrica.html Daldinia concentrica,Geotagged,King Alfred's Cake,Summer,United States,coal fungus,cramp balls,crampball,fungus,mushroom

Uses

The fungus is a useful form of tinder for fire-lighting. The brown variety is usually too heavy and dense to be much good; the black variety is lighter and better. It does need to be completely dry, whereupon it will take a spark from traditional flint and steel. It burns slowly, much like a charcoal briquette, with a particularly pungent smoke. Once lit it usually requires constant oxygen flow to keep burning, such as through swinging the fungus or blowing on it. Fragments can be broken off to expose more embers and transferred to a tinder bundle to create an open flame.

References:

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Taxonomy
KingdomFungi
DivisionAscomycota
ClassSordariomycetes
OrderXylariales
FamilyXylariaceae
GenusDaldinia
SpeciesD. concentrica