Daldinia concentrica    Cramp Balls, King Alfred's Cakes
This very distinctive fungus occurs throughout our Watford area in a wide range of habitats on both living and dead Fagus (ash), in our experience this has always proved to be the host but other species are often quoted eg beech and birch (Soothill and Fairhurst, 1978). Fruiting bodies occur year round and may be found on fallen trunks and rotting logs (usually on the ends) or on damaged or dead branches of standing trees, usually clustered on the underside. They may also occur on burnt trunks. The fruiting bodies are reddish-brown at first, maturing to dullish black with the appearance of having been burned, 2-10cm. across and often grow gregariously. When split the dry and crispy internally zoned flesh can be seen, this is alternately black and greyish white and is silky to touch.

The superficially similar Daldinia vernicosa is externally soft to the touch and usually occurs on burnt gorse.

Soothill, E. and Fairhurst, A. 1978 New field guide to fungi. Michael Joseph Ltd, London.