Puffballs (Calvatia, Bovista, Lycoperdon,Vascellum spp.)

A little cluster in the garden.
A little cluster in the garden

Phylum: Basidiomycota. Class: Agaricomycetes. Order: Agaricales. Family: Agaricaceae

There are several different species that go by the common name of ‘Puffball’. These include Calvatia, Bovista, Lycoperdon and Vascellum.

Puffballs are so called because of their roughly spherical shape and because when the spores are released or the ball is broken, the spores puff out in a cloud – the ‘puff’.

Interestingly, these spores have a medicinal use in herbalism. They are water repellent and when applied to weeping wounds and sores, help to repel the moisture and dry the wound. They can form a protective, water repellent crust over a wound – a natural bandage.

Puffballs are edible when the inside is a soft, white mass. As it matures, the inside of the Puffball turns a brown colour and hardens. Once that starts to happen, the taste changes and it becomes practically inedible. Of course, if you pick one that is brown, don’t try to eat it.

A tiny Puffball (Probably Calvatia)
A tiny Puffball (Calvatia)

Puffballs grow in as many types of location as there are species. They grow in lawns (loving ovals and sports fields), on straw in our garden (they seem to love the Mugwort patch), at the sides of paths and in woodlands. I must say that those found in grass taste the best. You can see puffballs sometimes pushing up through bitumen and even cement! I read once that the growing tips of the hyphae, microscopic though they are, can put out 10 X the pressure that’s in an average car tyre. That’s 300 psi! WOW!


Identifying Puffballs – a summary

If you see a white globe that isn’t a golf ball, look for these details –

  • Round, or globular shape (may be mildly deformed).
  • 2 – 10 cm in diameter (Calvatia can apparently get to softball size).
  • White to light brown colour skin both outside and inside.
  • Bovista have an outer coating which flakes off in pieces leaving a smooth skin capsule. They also have a root-like attachment. 
  • Lycoperdon have an upside-down pear or club shape.
  • Vascellum have powdery outer coating which rubs off easily.
  • There may be spines or scales, warts or even cracks but as long as the skin is unbroken, it’s OK.
  • When cut, the inside is soft, white and marshmallow like.
  • There is no sign of the word ‘Spalding’. If there is, you have a golf ball!

If you find a mushroom that fits the above requirements, you have yourself a Puffball!

Look alikes

Caution: Though it is fun to get an older Puffball to puff, don’t inhale the spores. They are water repellent and can coat your upper respiratory tract possibly causing discomfort, breathing difficulties, coughing and asthmatic symptoms. This holds true for any mushroom but is especially true of Puffballs because of the way the spores come out.

For reference, Lycoperdon and Vascellum start on page 104 of ‘A field guide to Australian Fungi’ by Bruce Fuhrer.

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