October 7, 2008

Puffball? Or Langermania giganteum

I was so surprised the other morning when I glanced into a wooded area adjacent to my house and saw several almost snowy-white soccerlike balls resting on the ground. I thought, at first, that a child was playing some kind of trick on me, but I soon realized that they were giant puffball fungi, thriving in the woods.

The type growing in my yard are the most common species of puffball, known as Langermania giganteum, reaching a diameter of 12 inches or more. And snowy-white they are when they first emerge from the ground, feeling spongy like a marshmallow. Within days, a puffball begins to turn brown as the spores inside mature. When the time is just right, an external stimulus will pop open the puffball, releasing a puffy cloud of spores, to hopefully, ensure a new crop next year.

People always want to know if a certain mushroom is edible and, yes, this kind of puffball is safe to consume. It can be sliced and sauteed in butter or olive oil and has kind of an eggplantlike consistency. However, it's important to know that the deadly Amanita mushrooms, when it first emerges from the ground, can look like a small puffball. Therefore, cut small puffballs in half, from top to bottom, first. If that reveals anything that looks like a stalk or mushroom cap, instead of pure white flesh, do not consider eating it!

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This is what I thought were soccer balls, perhaps kicked over the stone wall.