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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).

 

Pointed & Puffy! – The Spiny Puffball

I have a good gauge for the start of the mushroom season in the UK* – and that is my birthday! Well, the birth month anyway. Mushrooms grow all year round, but they are never so much in abundance and variety until the beginning of September. It’s technically still summer, but I can sense the autumn changes already in the wind (and rain of course)! So when people say ‘When does the mushroom season begin?’ I always say – ‘You can’t go wrong from September to November, get yourselves out there for the best pickings…’

Spiny Puffball (Lycoperdon echinatum)I especially notice the puffballs first. I don’t know if this just a Leicestershire thing, but I always find them in abundance, on grass or in woodland, keen to get going. As I walked in the woods today I found at least three different types of woodland puffball without really having to look that hard. They really like to get started early!

I chose to feature the Spiny Puffball (Lycoperdon echinatum) because I hadn’t taken pictures of it before. It’s a great looking and slightly unusual member of the puffball family. Often hidden from view, it blends in very well with the undergrowth (depending on their age). They start off white but soon turn to neutral brown colour, although the short stem can remain white for longer.

It’s most noticeable feature of course is that it’s covered in many tiny spines or spikes. These are finer and less pyramidal than the Common Puffball and naturally a different colour. After time some of these spines can become detached from the main body, leaving a cellular-like pattern, usually before the puffball opens up at the top to disperse it’s spores. Unfortunately I have no current example in the photos shown here.

Dimensions are also similar to the Common Puffball except for the shorter stem, and live in a similar environment. The Spiny Puffball prefers deciduous woods (and sometimes heaths) whereas the Common Puffball is in any type of woodland (deciduous or coniferous).

The young inner flesh looks quite nice, but this puffball is unfortunately classed as inedible, and I don’t know why. Perhaps the taste is disagreeable and unpleasant. I really didn’t feel like trying. There’s plenty more edible mushrooms on the way.

Let the season begin…

Round spiny puffballs

Spiny Puffballs / Cross section of young white flesh which matures purple-brown

P.S. Also see – The Common Puffball and the Meadow Puffball.

*In the US (Pennsylvania) a popular mushroom festival coincidentally started this year on my birthday! (http://www.mushroomfestival.org/). If you’re over near that way, it’s definitely worth a look.