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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.

White balls in the Wood! – Common Puffball

A few days earlier I had found the lovely Meadow Puffball, and now after a visit to the woods I find a nice collective group of Common Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum).

They’re mainly found in groups growing on the ground in open woodland among leaf litter, and sometimes in pastures. These particular puffballs were found at the edge of the car park growing in the soil. It was a pleasant surprise and added bonus as I made my way back to my car. If you take time to look around further you may also see some earthballs hanging around too – although they’re not really good eats at all!

Common PuffballIf you find these young beauties before they open up and release their spores, gently prize one out of the ground. Laying it down you will see that it has an ‘up-side-down pear’ shape. The main upper fruit body is rounded and the narrower lower part tapers off slightly. Some specimens can grow quite large up from the ground and some appear smaller with the thinner, lower body (stem, if you like) obscured from view, showing just a ‘ball’ shape.

The texture is very distinctive for identifying this fungus. There are many small nodules covering the surface with larger conical/pointed spikes spread uniformly across it’s surface.

The young specimen will be white with these light-brown spikes. Inside will be nice and white too. They’re quite nice to eat, usually sliced and fried up with an omelette or whatever you fancy. Problem is though, the skin can be a little tough so you must have the patience in peeling!

As it grows older the colour changes to a dull brown and a hole at the top opens up to release it’s spores. Raindrops, wind or movement from a passing animal cause the open sack to ‘puff’ out its contents in a fine cloud of brown powder. If you ever see one lying around in this state (and it isn’t yet empty), give it a little tap with your finger. Pooof! Great fun – even if a little short lived.

One little note I think I ought to make. Small white ball or ‘egg-shaped’ fungi can also be other poisonous toadstools in early development. For example the Death Cap starts life in a small white egg sack. I know it’s a little different to our young Common Puffball, but it’s just something to bear in mind. Be safe out there kids!

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

Common Puffball

Young, white Common Puffballs growing amongst leaf litter in and around Woodland

Large white Puffballs

Larger examples of the Common Puffball – growing up to 9cm high

The PUFFBALLS/EARTHBALLS & ALLIES (Stomach fungi): Characteristics to look out for:

• Main fruting body is ball shaped, irregular or pedicel shaped. Broken or split at maturity to release spores
• Interior of fruiting body full of gleba (spores); solid when young, as a powder at maturity.
• Often small or no visible stem.