Tinder, dyes, paper, and fabric.

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Functional Fungi: A resource

Figure 1. The Tinder Fugus Fomes fomentarius.
     There are many ways fungi can be used as tools and mankind has used them in similar manner as plants since antiquity. Bracket fungi, with their strong hyphae have been used to sharpen edges of weapons and tools. A useful feature for any traveler since he or she would not have to carry around heavy stones, but instead just look for fruiting fungus. Likewise, the tinder fungus (Fomes formentarius) has long been used as an agent to start fires. It also burns long and slow and is a much better source for fuel than is wood. No doubt early man found these fungi to be useful in every day life.

     Fungi may be used to dye fabric. Both macroscopic fungi and lichenized fungi can be used for dyeing. Over seventy different colors can be made from macroscopic fungi by changing the wool, the pH, and the quantity of the fungus used and time of immersion in the extracting bath (Watling). Wool, silk, hair, and paper can all be dyed in this manner. Historically Plains Indians of North America used the Indian paint fungus (Echinodontium tinctorium) to produce an orange-red pigment that dyes the skin. Elsewhere in Australia, aboriginals used the paint brush fungus to paint their bodies (Watling).

     Recently hyphae of some fungi have been used in the process of making paper. When hyphae is soaked and beaten out into strips it can be made into household utensils and clothing. In Hungary, hats, belts, and bags are made from the tinder fungus (Watling). Fungi has been used as totems and decorative jewelery by Plains Indians. The versatility of fungi offers many functions for humans and should be seen as a valuable resource to understand and protect.

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