From Giant Puffballs to little puffballs, they’re all sprouting up at the moment! My ears pricked this week whilst out and about in the gardens, a colleague stopped to say hello and mentioned there were some lovely big Calvatia gigantea as large as his head, (!!) and so naturally, he thought I would like to see them. They were near the the Tilia collection, just down in the Berberis dell; a much quieter area of the gardens. Giant Puffballs are not uncommon and they are very widespread but because I love fungi, obviously I wanted to go and see them! So I did.
And as big as a head they were, but it’s difficult to explain the scale, so here’s my pass with lanyard on one of them for my attempt at scale. (It’s all I really had on me apart from a packet of marmite rice cakes. They’re not bad actually).
Past their best in terms of the sizeable white snowball they once were, C gigantea become brown like this as they age. Edible as young, white, fleshy organisms, they become dangerous to eat as they are in the decomposition stage. The skin has become brown, broken and cracked which is revealing the spore rich mass. The gleba has now become a brown sporey mass almost like a sponge. Or sofa stuffing I tend to liken it to. Or as my friend once said, elephant poo. Both totally plausible lookalikes.
After admiring them, we trundled off home the scenic route, and with a very cross toddler indicating it was time for lunch, we quickly passed a Weeping Beech and spotted hundreds (really there were hundreds) of little Puffballs which took me a while to discuss and determine which species they might be. Of course I stopped to take photos and have a look, which angered my tot even more. ‘Alright, we are going home for num-nums now’ I told him. I don’t get much time these days. Quick photo and I’m off!
I walked off and wondered if they could be Lycoperdon pyriforme because I am aware that the species likes to grow on woody substrate and often in clusters. And lots of these were so it was most likely. In fact it is one of only a few Puffballs that grow on wood. But lots appeared to be growing on the soil too. So could they actually be L. perlatum ? I’d have another look at my photos.
Similar in some ways yes, but the ‘jewels’ aren’t really present on these ones. The ‘jewels’ or little spikes present on L. perlatum are quite large. I couldn’t be too sure to give them a certain identification though at the time, and so I discussed it with the lovely Lukas who never lets me down when it comes to questioning fungi finds. We came to the conclusion that they are most likely L. pyriforme . They can indeed be growing on buried roots and this could look as if they are growing on soil. The fungus grows abundantly on deciduous or coniferous decaying wood in autumn, and it seems like that’s what this lot are doing!
Lycoperdon pyriforme (Schaeffe.) ‘The Stump Puffball’:
‘Pyriforme’ originates from the Latin for ‘pear-shaped’. The fruit bodies can also have tiny, fine spines on their surface which drop off at maturity. Perhaps this is why I got a little confused by species at first. But now I know they are much finer than L. perlatum spines. The gleba is white and firm in younger specimens (edible at this stage) but I saw that some had a yellow tinge, and this happens as they age. Then the older ones which had already ‘erupted’ revealed an olive-brown coloured powdery spore mass. The central perforation at the top of the ‘ball’ opens at maturity and spores are dispersed via wind and rain. The fungus is saprobic, growing on decaying tree stumps or roots and is widespread and very common in Great Britain and Ireland, as well as across several parts of the world. Taxonomy note: Originally named by Jacob Christian Schaeffer in 1796.
However, due to the huge number of puffballs here at the moment I think it’s best to stay well away from all these erupting spheres; copious amounts of the spores can cause Lycoperdonosis, a respiratory illness caused solely by the inhalation of mature puffball spores.
Lycoperdonosis- it’s an actual thing
It is. But note the word ‘copious’. You would really have to breath in a fair amount of spores for them to cause problems, meaning it’s quite rare.
But I find it scary! The spores of puffballs such as L. perlatum have characteristic little spikes or warts protruding from them which are seen under microscope, and these then get caught in the lungs, showing up as nodules on chest x-rays. It is said that symptoms are likened to tuberculosis so diagnosis can be very difficult at first. Cold/flu symptoms occur followed by nausea, a racing pulse, a strange sound at the end of inhalation, and it can take hours for symptoms to initially start showing. The disease can be treated thankfully with corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation and sometimes antimicrobials. (Wikipedia) Dogs have also been known to contract the disease when playing and digging in areas where Puffballs grow.
Just to say…
Podoscypha multizonata is the focus of my next CAS fungi article so to any members of the society, look out for your next newsletter and read about this beautiful species currently fruiting in Kew.
In the meantime, I am off to prepare for a new year of studying to begin, and am also very much looking forward to a fungal foray with Fungitobewith this weekend! I will surely write a post about it so you can find out what we discover on the day.
Until next time,
first-nature.com and Wikipedia
With thanks to Lukas Large for your time and guidance as always