“Puffballs” encompass a large number of different fungi which are hard to miss. Some of these include:
(previously called Lycoperdon curtisii)
All “puffballs” can be spotted by the following features:
- It is “ball” “lightbulb” or “loaf of bread” shaped and solid. When cut in half, the space of the mushroom is filled completely with flesh.
- It does not have gills, pores or teeth. ‘Nuff said.
- It’s found growing on grass or in a field. There is one exception to that, Morganella pyriformis, which grows on wood. It’s a bit rarer in NJ.
- The centers of older specimens become dark and powdery. At this point when they’re stomped on they cause colorful clouds of spores.
For specific species:
- Calvatia cyathiformis is round or bread-loaf shaped, has purple spores and a smooth, generally white to light brownish skin.
- Vacellum curtisii is pure white with soft angular spines that can rub off and yellow-green spores. It generally doesn’t get bigger than a ping pong ball.
- Morganella pyriformis generally has tan-brown or light brown skin and soft circular spines that can rub off. Doesn’t tend to get bigger than a light bulb and older specimens have a little hole in the top that tends to puff spores out when squeezed. Only found on wood.
Where all puffballs are edible, there are two things that you *must* keep in mind:
- Be sure it’s a puffball. – Slice it open from top to bottom and make sure there are no gill structures inside of it. There are many deadly poisonous mushrooms that have a “button stage” where they may look like small puffballs before their caps burst upwards. If you see no gill outlines:
- Be sure it’s firm and snowy white throughout. – Where this is not potentially fatal, if there’s any hint of yellow or softening you run the risk of giving yourself a very upset stomach. The spores of most puffballs will cause severe gastrointestinal distress, and if it’s squishy without going to spore, that means that the mushroom is dead and starting to decay.