LlyG member blog – Wild useful fungi – Spalting

Posted on June 6, 2016 by

In the last few months Zena Wilmot from LlyG member group Dyfi Woodlands, has been investigating Spalting as part of the Startree project a pan-European project to support the sustainable exploitation of forest resources for rural development. Here Zena gives an insight into this fascinating fungus – its uses and potential. 

Anyone interested in sharing knowledge about woodland fungi can join a new facebook group about woodland fungi or contact – zena.wilmot@dyfiwoodlands.org.uk. 

Walking in the woods it is often possible to see fungi on living or fallen wood; what we can’t easily see is the living network of filaments called mycelium and the biological processes at work within the wood. As a biologist working in woodlands, I’m familiar with these process much thought to how the mycelium moves through the wood, how different fungi interact visible signs that are left behind on this dynamic journey towards decay.

What is Spalting?

When a fungus leaves behind marks in wood it is called ‘spalting’ and it can take various forms including biological bleaching, distinct brown or black ‘zone’ lines and colourful pigmentations (see image above). The effects are unique in each piece.

My attention was drawn to spalting when I was on a mushroom identification course; I was speaking with a woodworker from South Wales who told me that he sometimes leaves logs outside for six months or more in the hope that they would spalt. The markings left in the wood by the fungi could add significant value to the wood, but if left too long the wood became too soft and was lost altogether.

Research into Spalting 

I wanted to know more about the fungi that cause spalting and this project gave me the opportunity to research it. I came across some forum posts by woodworkers and articles in woodturning magazines. There were several ‘recipes’ for spalting wood, none of which seemed very rigorous with little information about the fungi themselves. I almost gave up on this avenue of research when I discovered the work of Dr Sara Robinson from the Applied Mycology Lab at Oregon State University. She has developed techniques to spalt wood in approximately twelve weeks and to directly extract the dies from the fungi. More importantly for me, the fungi they had identified in North America also grow in Wales.

Just by knowing the fungi that cause spalting, it is possible to identify the timber that may naturally be spalted. This knowledge means that it can be relatively straightforward to find valuable pieces amongst a stack of firewood, lying on the woodland floor or in trees still growing.

Spalting timber 

The next step was to try intentionally spalting timber. I followed the methodology set out by Dr. Sara Robertson. To trial this technique I needed a culture of the fungus. Initially I bought a
versicolour (turkey tail) inoculum from an online shop and grew it on grain to make it more. In parallel I  used a low-tech approach that involves picking fresh samples collected from the woods and growing them on cardboard. Within a couple of weeks the small bracket fungi had started to colonise the damp cardboard. Using both these sources of live mycelium, I inoculated freshly cut beech. Using both these sources of live mycelium, I innoculated freshly cut Beech.
The methodology suggests leaving the timber for twelve weeks in a damp dark place. The fungus grew well  and soon colonised the timber samples. I checked regularly and after two months took out a sample (see image) that showed discoloration and mycelium growing in the grain. The trial is not yet finished.
I was hoping to create zone lines as I’d found in wild samples infected with Trametes, however further research suggests it is the interaction, or lines of disputed territory markings. I’m setting up a second trial culturing more wild samples and inoculating wood with competing fungi to create zone lines and I will be attempting to grow wild harvested Chlorociboria (Green Elf Cup – see image on page 1) to create pigmentation effects.
  • Potential for wild harvest
    There are many fungi that occur naturally in this habitat that will spalt wood. There is good potential for wild harvesting of spalted timber.
  • Potential for cultivation
    Wood can be spalted in controlled conditions and some of the methodology is relatively low-tech and could be done with basic equipment. This is potentially a quicker and more reliable method to add value to timber. To extract pigments laboratory facilities are required.
  • Marketability
    There is a demand for one-off effects that the unique spalted wood creates. There is a market with wood turners, woodworkers, sculptors, joiners and potentially larger scale industry for high value unique pieces. There is an emerging market for extracted pigments.
IMG_9567 (2)

Trametes versicolour (turkey tail) mycelium colonising freshly cut beech

IMG_9695 (2)

Chlorociboria (Green Elf Cup) creates pigmentation in wood historically used for for fine inlays – found growing wild. .


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