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Identifying Puffball Mushrooms

Sonia Nair Mar 2, 2020
Identifying puffball mushrooms is not difficult, if you have a basic know-how about the features of this fungus. Here is a brief overview about the fungus and its features.
Puffball mushrooms are among the most popular edible fungi that are found to grow on soil or dead wood. As the name suggests, these mushrooms are roughly round to pear-shaped, and can be found in different sizes. Most of the true puffball mushrooms are safe for consumption. However, you must have a basic understanding about puffball mushroom identification.

Puffball Mushroom Facts

● There are different types of puffball mushrooms, which come under the division Basidiomycota. Mushrooms that belong to the genera Calvatia, Calbovista and Lycoperdon, are categorized as puffballs. Even though, Lycoperdon is considered the true puffball genus, most of the mushrooms belonging to the genera Calvatia and Calbovista are also found edible.
● Unlike other mushrooms, puffballs have a spherical body, inside which the spores are produced. Most mushrooms have cap-like bodies with spore-producing gills on the underside. The spherical body of a puffball mushroom opens only for releasing spores. Once mature, even a small pressure (a falling raindrop) may open the mushroom and release the spores.
● Puffball mushrooms are round or pear-shaped, and their color ranges from pure white to off white, tan, and gray. While most of the edible puffballs lack stalks, there are some with small stalks. However, those with woody and tough stalks and body, are not edible.
Most of them have a thin, smooth skin; but, some may have tiny spikes or warts. Some varieties have designs, as in pineapple. The inner sides of a puffball mushroom is pure white. As the mushroom ages, the color of the flesh turns yellow and then black. Once they mature, the inner area fills with dark powdery spores that are released into the atmosphere.
● There are different types of puffball mushrooms that vary in size, the largest is the giant puffball mushroom or Calvatia gigantea. These mushrooms may grow to a width of around 70-150 cm, with a maximum weight of 20 kg. In general, they grow in late summer and fall, and are commonly found in lawns, barren areas, open woods, dead wood, pastures and soil.

How to Identify Puffball Mushrooms

As far as mushrooms are concerned, identifying the safe (edible) ones is very important, so as to avoid side effects, after consumption. There are some basic features that can help you in identifying puffball mushrooms.
  • The most important among them is the pure white flesh, without any shades of yellow, purple, or brown. The flesh must be solid, dense, and firm. It has been observed that with age, their flesh gets less denser.
  • When cut in half, the flesh must have a uniform consistency. There should not be any sign of a developing mushroom, like gills, caps, or stalks.
  • Sometimes, young amanita mushrooms (poisonous) may look like puffballs; but, you can identify them by cutting in half, so that the developing structures can be viewed. So, puffball mushrooms do not have long stalks, gills, or caps.
  • Pigskin poison puffball (Scleroderma citrinum) is a type of puffball mushroom that is found to cause gastrointestinal problems. This puffball has a dark-colored thick skin with designs. Even their flesh may have a purplish tinge, while young.
  • Even though, puffball mushrooms are edible, you must harvest and use these mushrooms, when they are young. The flesh has to be white and firm, with a uniform consistency. If the flesh is yellowish, or if there are signs of developing spores; you must not use it for consumption.
In short, puffball mushroom identification is not a difficult task. It will be better to seek the opinion of an expert, if you find such mushrooms in your place. Make sure to cut open the mushroom in half, so that you can check properly.
Once you make sure that it is an edible mushroom, you can use it after removing the skin, which can sometimes cause intestinal irritation in some people. You can fry, grill, saute, or sear puffball mushrooms, which go well with beef, chicken, and eggs.