Posts

Large as life – The Giant Puffball

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.

PuffballsThe 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:

Happy Hunting…

Giant Puffball image identification

The Giant Puffball can reach up to 80cm across. Older examples peel open and release the mature brown spores within (bottom right).

 

Bulging bracket! – The Birch Polypore

It’s very rare that I do not see one of these bracket fungus when I’m out and about on a forage. They grow quite large and are around all year. It would be hard to miss one.

The Birch Polypore or Razorstrop fungus (Piptoporus betulinus) is an extremely common polypore fungus. As the name suggests, it is found exclusively on birch trees.

At maturity they are typically semicircular or kidney shaped as they grow outwards from the tree body. Shapes and sizes may differ a little but generally this is the norm. As I mentioned earlier, they can grow to a good size – between 20 – 30cm across and 8cm thick! They’re quite a sight to behold when they get to this size.

The colour is that of pure white (when younger) and as it matures it changes to a dull grey or tawny brown. It’s smooth surface often cracks, showing white flesh underneath. The consistency is spongy or slightly rubbery to the touch. These fruiting bodies can usually last from one year into the next, that is why you can see them all of the time over the winter months.

Razorstrop Fungus

Typical semi-circular/kidney shape of the Birch Polypore

On the underside the pored surface is smooth and pure white, but over time this gets marked with dark patches from age and/or insect attack.

I know what you’re thinking though. Is this fungus edible? Well, unfortunately not. It actually smells quite pleasant but it’s taste is quite bitter. It’s a shame, I know.

At least it had it’s uses even as far back as 5,300 years ago! In 1991 “Ötzi the Iceman” (Europe’s oldest natural human mummy) was discovered by German tourists in the Alps. Found in his possession were two species of polypore mushroom. One of which was the Birch Polypore (for medicinal use) which is known to have antibacterial properties. It could have also have been used to sharpen blades or tools – hence the name ‘Razorstrop’.

Polypore fungus

In the images above are some very young Birch Polypores growing out of from the bark of a fallen silver birch tree.