Anyone who has kicked or stepped on a ripe, fungal puffball and seen its cloud of powdery dust knows why it was given this name.
The puffs of powder contain millions of spores that serve to scatter the fungus over the earth. It is estimated that a giant puffball could contain billions of spores. It’s a tremendous waste of spores because the fungus depends on the whims of the wind and other weather elements. Only a few ever find a suitable spot to grow.
The giant puffball is one of the largest of all the fungi. The fruiting bodies are nearly spherical. When young they are white with a smooth outer surface. A cord-like structure attaches them to the ground. They range in size from baseball-sized to larger than a basketball. When the fruiting bodies become tan or brown at maturity, the upper part of the surface collapses, allowing spores to escape.
I look for fresh giant puffballs well into this month, growing in rich, wet humus in wooded areas, along drainage ditches and at the edges of pastures.
Did you know they are edible? A puffball is delicious when sliced and fried. Like all puffballs, it is good to eat as long as it is white and solid inside; a tinge of yellow indicates a bitter taste and that the tissue has begun to decompose. Always slice a puffball through the center and look for any signs of gills being formed. That would indicate that you have collected the button stage of a gilled mushroom, possibly a poisonous one. In the edible stage, the puffball has only solid white flesh. Check for insect tunnels, and discard infected areas.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.