Dry rot the name

dry rot on joist
Fresh colonisation of dry rot on a floor joist

The name dry rot in timber comes from the 18th century.  Churches were usually built with oak, and when wood was affected, it was visibly wet (we now call this soft rot fungus).  When pine started to be used, the visible decay effect changed.  The timber was decayed, but with no visible dampness on the timber, we now group this as brown rot fungi.

The main problem with wood-rotting fungi is that most timber may be infected, but the early colonisation stage is not visible.  The species of timber and or if it is slow or fast grown will have a significant effect on the outcome.

The Royal Navy had significant problems in the 18-19th century as some ships were severely decayed before they were completed to what appears to be an invisible infection (fermentation). This can be read in detail in a book on the Inquiry into the means which have been taken to Preserve the British Navy by John Knowles circa 1821.

In the early 1960s, the brown rot Serpula lacrymans was given the common name Dry rot fungus.

Nigel Foster

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