There is no danger in mistaking this fungus with any other. Nothing comes close to its unique size and appearance. Everyone should feel lucky if they ever find any of these beauties in their prime. I only have the occasional luck here and there. They’re either too young, too old or vandalized! Late summer and autumn is the best time to go hunting for them.
The pictures of these magnificent Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) were kindly supplied by Brian Friend (excluding the header & bottom right image) taken in his garden in Stickney, Lincolnshire. My discoveries to date haven’t been particularly photogenic, so many thanks again Brian.
So here were not just one, but several Giant Puffballs in a long line – or so it seems. They are actually part of a large partial ring. The averge puffball size I would say would be approximately 20-23cm in diametre (around 4kg). They could also still be in the process of growing even larger. Mature specimens can reach up to 80cm across (approx. 20kg) or even larger in some exceptional cases.
Apart from hedgerows and woodland edges, it is gardens and pasture land that are the most common habitat for this fungus, often found in full or partial fairy rings (as in this case).
The outer skin is white or creamy white and is firm and leathery to the touch. The inner flesh contains a dense white spore mass, known as gleba. These young reproductive spores amount in excess to around 7-8 trillion – and sometimes more. That’s one determined fungus keen on reproduction! However, only a couple of the spores may find purchase and reproduce elsewhere. Maybe this is not a bad thing, otherwise we’d be knee deep in them every autumn.
With age, the skin rots away and peels, leaving the now mature olive-brown spores to be released. This is further helped when the whole fruiting body becomes detached from it’s relatively small mycelial attachment (small white root-like appendage) and is free to roll ‘not-so-gracefully’ over the surrounding grassland.
If you’re lucky enough to find these magnificent white balls in their prime, the young white flesh is excellent for eating, and there’s a wealth of recipes out there for it. Here’s just a choice few:
- Giant Puffball Mushroom Crust Pizza (food.com)
- The Puffburger (rivercottage.net)
- Simple recipe – Cooking a Giant Puffball (dancingbeastie.wordpress.com)
- Grilled Puffball with rosemary and garlic (theguardian.com)
- Giant puffball, Stuffed with feta and tomato salsa (theguardian.com)