the demise of the Puffball

A couple of pristine white and almost perfectly round Giant Puffball mushrooms appeared in the wetland behind the backyard about two weeks ago.

The two Giant Puffballs were located a few feet apart and were already 6-8 inches in diameter.

These distinctive Fungi have no spore-bearing gills on the underside like most table mushrooms. They do not have a stalk or stem, and the spores produced internally are released in a cloud of brown dust when the large fruiting body splits apart at maturity or due to some mechanical disturbance (like someone kicking it).

Every couple of days I visited the “twins” to see what changes had occurred in the interim. The figure below captures the progression of changes in the largest Puffball over almost two weeks. Click on the image to get a larger view.

From the first day I found them, both Puffballs got somewhat bigger, then cracks appeared in the surface and they slowly got browner and more crusty. However, both were still intact after 2 weeks and had not broken apart to release spores.

Giant Puffballs can grow to 20-inch diameters, and occasionally the largest ones may be up to 60 inches across and weigh as much as 40 pounds. They are edible when young with firm, solid white tissue inside. But as they mature and begin to decompose, the interior spore development becomes a soft greenish brown as trillions of spores develop.

By day 8 after I first found them, one of the Puffballs had developed a ring of lacy fungus growing on it –the other Puffball remained pristine.
By day 14 after I first found them, someone had kicked the largest Puffball over exposing the solid white base and its small connection to the underground portion of the fungus (highlighted in the soil).

Here’s a fascinating video on the spore production of Puffballs by Sir David (Attenborough) and some nifty time-lapse video of Earth Star fungi that puff their spores out in response to rain…

1 thought on “the demise of the Puffball

  1. Large puffballs are fascinating. I missed my opportunity to cook one once. Seems I rarely come across them. How interesting to have two close by to watch as they progress to spore stage. I’m surprised you didn’t eat one and watch the other.

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