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They're As Big As Soccer Balls!

Oct 05, 2010

large puffball in grassy area

That’s what I’ve been hearing from folks lately who have seen the large fungi, known as giant puffballs. The giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea) is found in Missouri in open pastures, woods and lawns from May through October. It can be from 8 to 20 inches in diameter and can grow singly or in groups. This seems to be a year for more of the larger specimens, perhaps due to the above-average rainfall that most of Missouri has experienced for the past three years.

When young and growing, the puffball’s surface looks and feels like white leather and its inside resembles the texture and color of a marshmallow. The squirrels in my backyard have sampled several of my young puffballs, but they rarely consume more than a few bites. As the puffball matures, its color changes to a yellowish-green and the surface texture becomes papery. The inside changes into a powdery mass of almost microscopic spores. One reference indicates that an average-sized specimen was estimated to contain around 7 trillion spores.

The spores are released through breaks in the mature puffball’s outer skin. Raindrops hitting the skin will cause spores to be released as will animals or people bumping into it. For the full effect of spore release, try running over one with your lawn mower when the spores are mature. The cloud of greenish-brown spores will hang in the air for quite a while on a day without wind, the spores being too tiny and light for gravity to exert much force on them. I try to avoid those clouds, thinking that nothing good could come of breathing fungal spores.

Although giant puffballs are edible, there are similar species that are poisonous. You should never eat a mushroom unless you are sure of its identity, and beginning mushroom hunters should always consult an expert.

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