Identifying Puffball Mushrooms

How to Safely Identify The Edible Puffball Family of Mushrooms

Puffball mushrooms overall are a very common and easy to identify family, one of the safest for beginners. It’s one of the first species that I remembered the Latin name for. Lycopodium roughly translates to ‘Wolfs Fart’ I guess it’s still the teenage boy in me trying to escape!

Dr. Hans-Günter Wagner, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Puffballs are placed within the Basidiomycota group of fungus, meaning their spores are produced on the inside. Its old name Gastromycete means ‘stomach fungi’.

They can be found in fields, meadows and most types of woodland. All true puffballs are edible when they are young but they can be mistaken for quite a few other species, for example, the Common Earthball (Scleroderma Citrinum) and Deathcaps (Amanita Phalloides) both of which are toxic so it’s important to know what to look for.

There are also some other fungal species that at different stages of their development may appear similar to puffballs, the important thing to do with any ball-like, globular structures that you find is to cut them in half to see what they look like inside.

I once found a single fallen tree which contained 10kg of the stump puffball mushroom, on a single tree, they were all in perfect condition and I must admit even just picking 30% we ate these for a solid week alone

Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

A puffball when cut in half should be almost pure white, with no discolouration and should have a marshmallowy, spongy texture. As they mature and get ready to release their spores they start to discolour and the flesh will turn to a yellow/green colour. At this stage they should be avoided, they’re not toxic but will be very unpleasant to eat.

Ian Dodd (kk) (www.kundabungkid.com) Australia (kundabungkid), CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the more common lookalikes would include:

  1. The Death cap or other members of the Amanita family. If the fungus you found is part of
    the Amanita family you would see an undeveloped mushroom inside. The Amanita family
    does contain some edible species but it’s not a beginner-friendly family so great care should
    be taken when picking any Amanitas.

    This image was created by user Justin Pierce (JPierce) at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images.You can contact this user here.English | español | français | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | português | +/−, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. The Earthballs but if it was an Earthball the inside would be a mass of purple to black spores. When they are very young this is less obvious but there will still be a ring of yellow present. Earthballs are mildly toxic so these should be avoided.
    Stephen James McWilliam, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
  3. The Common Stinkhorn (Phallus Impudicus) also starts life as a ball shaped structure, when these are sliced in half you will see what we describe in the trade as a ‘witches eye’. These are edible when they are in their ‘egg’ stage but they’re not very pleasant.
    Holger Krisp, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Eating Puffball Mushrooms

Although the puffballs, in general, don’t have the strongest taste they are very versatile, I love them dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and then deep-fried. They’re a bit like a vegan chicken nugget.

But they’re also nice simply grilled or fried in butter. Because of their spongy texture (a bit like tofu) they’re also great at absorbing other flavours. I like them marinated in soy, lime juice and ginger and then quickly stir-fried.

There’s some brilliant overarching rules for puffball mushrooms which means you can identify the mushroom as a puffball & edible without having to know which specific puffball it is.

Below are some ID guides for some of the more common species but the main features to
remember are:

  1. Ball to pear-shaped sometimes with a base like an inverted cone. They lack gills, pores or
    spines.
  2. They can be found growing in woodlands or in grass depending on the species.
  3. They can grow either on soil or on dead/rotting wood.
  4. They should be spongy to feel and be free from a hole or opening on the top.
  5. When cut in half they should be pure white with no discolouration.
  6. All true puffballs are edible when young.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common puffballs to forage

Okay, you have the overview now for what we’re looking for in the puffball mushroom family but let us take a slightly closer look at the most common puffballs we’ll come across when out foraging for mushrooms.

Common Puffball Mushroom

Identifying Features:

Cap:

No real cap. The fruit body is usually round or pear-shaped with a small foot or stem. The surface is covered in tiny pyramid-shaped ‘pearls’, which when rubbed off leave a net-like pattern. The surface is white/cream when young darkening with age, they will develop a darker central umbo when they have reached maturity. The flesh when young is almost pure white and spongy, as they mature this will turn to a yellow/green colour as the spores develop.

Daniel Ullrich, Threedots, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem:

The stem is similar in colour to the fruiting body and is also covered in the ‘pearls’. More like an inverted cone than a true stem.

Stu’s Images, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell:

Mild mushroom scent.


Spores:

Olive/Brown.

Stu’s Images, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Dusky Puffball Mushroom

Identifying Features:

Cap:

No real cap. The fruit body is usually round or pear-shaped with a small foot or stem. The surface is covered in tiny almost back pyramid-shaped ‘pearls’, which when rubbed off leave a dark net-like pattern. The surface is off white when young darkening with age, they will develop a darker central umbo when they have reached maturity. The flesh when young is almost pure white and spongy, as they mature this will turn to a yellow/green colour as the spores develop.

Lukas from London, England, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem:

The stem is similar in colour to the fruiting body and is also covered in the ‘pearls’. More like an inverted cone than a true stem.

Strobilomyces, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell:

They give off an unpleasant almost gassy smell when they are cut.


Spores:

Olive green.


Mosaic Puffball Mushroom

Identifying Features:

Cap:

The fruiting body is round to pear-shaped and is covered with a mosaic of scales that will fall off with age. They are white to pale brown in colour but will turn browner with maturity.

xulescu_g, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem:

No true stem, the base is like an inverted cone and is attached to the soil by means of rhizomorphs (thick, root-like strands of mycelium)

Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell:

No real aroma.


Spores:

Olive brown.


Stump Puffball Mushroom

Identifying Features:

Cap:

The fruiting body is more pestle or pear-shaped than some other puffballs, they are off white when young but will darken with age and develop a darker central umbo as they get ready to release their spores. The flesh is pure white when young turning green/brown with age.

Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem:

A similar colour to the main fruiting body, short and more like an upturned cone. The base of the stem is attached to the stump by means of rhizomorphs (thick, root-like strands of mycelium)

Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell:

They give off an unpleasant almost gassy smell when they are cut.


Spores:

Olive green to brown.


Giant Puffball Mushroom

Identifying Features

Description

A large white to off-white fungus with a fine velvet-like surface when young becomes smooth and papery. The inside of the fruiting body will turn into brown mature spores.


Stem:

No visible stem but sometimes has a fine root-like filament that connects it to the ground.


Smell:

Sweet, mushroomy.


Spores

starting white and turning brown then greeny brown


What about the Lookalikes?

Now let’s take a slightly closer looker at those pesky potential lookalikes for the puffball mushrooms.

The Deathcap Mushroom

Physical Characteristics  


Volva

Like all amanita this mushroom grows from a volva (egg sack)

GLJIVARSKO DRUSTVO NIS from Serbia, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Cap

The cap is olive-brown and quite shiny, it doesnt have any warts or spots but does look fibrous towards the edge of the cap. Its often darker in the centre of the cap. Dome shaped when young and flattening with age, the edge is prone to splitting when dry.

Krzysztof Slusarczyk, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Gills

The gills are crowded and white, they are adnexed (narrowly joined to the stem) with age the gills begin to turn more of a creamy colour.

Michel Langeveld, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem & Skirt

The tall stem is creamy coloured with zig-zag like scales, it has a large striped veil (skirt).

The base is surrounded by the white volva (egg sack)

Repina Tatyana, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell

Slight sweet floral smell, becoming sickly as it matures


Spores

White


The Earthball Mushroom

Identifying Features:

Cap:

No obvious cap, they are generally spherical or potato-shaped. The colour ranges from tan to brown with a darker wart-like surface. They have thick leathery skin (peridium). Inside there is a mass of purple to brown spores, although when very young they are much paler and are almost white inside, at this stage they can look a little like an edible Puffball.

© Hans Hillewaert

Stem:

No real stem, but there may be some mycelium threads running into the soil.

Stephen James McWilliam, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Gills:

No gills, this mushroom is one of the gasteromycetes or stomach fungi, the spores for these species are produced inside the fruiting body and when ready a small slit will appear on the top, then every time a raindrop or animal touches the mushroom clouds of spores are released.

Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Erin Pitts, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Smell:

An unpleasant chemical smell, a bit like rubber.


Spores:

Brown.


The Stinkhorn Mushroom

Identifying Features for Stinkhorn:


Cap:

First appearing smooth and olive grey brown to black but this is what’s called the gleba which contains the spores. The gleba attracts flies which spread the spores of the Stinkhorn. they take the gleba with them and leave a white cap with a honeycomb pattern.

JovanaKoturov, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem:

Hollow, white and like spongey honeycomb. Flesh soft and rubbery in the cap, like polystyrene in the stem


Gills:

None, the stink horn spores in rancid smelling olive green sludge called gleba


Smell:

Putrid rotting flesh though some say it smells sweet like honey.


Spores:

held in the olive green liquid called gleba but the spores are yellow


Well, that just about covers everything we think you might need to know about the puffball mushroom family and mushrooms we think that might be confused with them whilst out foraging.

There’s plenty more mushroom guides which you’ll find in the mushroom foraging guide section of this website 🙂

Happy Foraging

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

X
X
X