Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two edible puffballs

On late summer/early fall, with a little bit of luck, it is possible to find some pretty large edible puffballs. Although I wasn't too lucky this summer, last week my mother in law brought me three large puffballs, two of which were in great shape for the pan. Also, when walking to work this Friday, I found a golf ball shaped (and sized) mushroom growing on the lawn near the Twinbrook Metro Station. The mushroom was easy to spot due to its bright white color that was contrasting with the green. Although I've found these two types of mushrooms before, I had never found such fresh and young specimens and therefore I never had a good chance to taste them. The fact that it is so easy to identify them tempts me to try them later today. Indeed, because of its characteristic shape, size and the lack of dangerous lookalikes, large puffballs like Calvatia craniformis, Calvatia gigantea and Calvatia cyathiformis are considered by some 'good mushrooms for beginners'.

First specimen
Date: 08/31/2011

Location: Bowie, MD

Habitat: Gregarious, growing on grass
Mushrooms are pear shaped with light-brown to beige cuticle. The top part of the mushroom has shallow cracks which give it a brain-like appearance. The crack troughs are darker than the rest of the cuticle. Context is bright white, spongy and homogeneous. Smell is non-distinctive. There is no clear stipe or hymenium.
Diameter - 10-11 cm
Height - 10 cm
This is a specimen of Calvatia, possibly C. craniformis or C. cyathiformis. Both are edible mushrooms and the only way to identify them is to look at mature specimens and compare the color of the spore mass. In C. craniformis the spore mass is yellow, while in C. cyathiformis the spore mass is purple-brown. C. cyathiformis is more common in lawns and urban settings while C. craniformis is more common in woods. Both grow to very large sizes (not as large C. gigantea) and occur on late summer-early fall.

Lycoperdon perlatum
Second specimen
Date: 09/02/2011
Location: Parking lot of Twinbrook Metro Station, Rockville, MD
Habitat: Gregarious, growing on grass
Somewhat pear shaped with tappered base, cuticle is composed of multiple polyhedral warts. Context is white, spongy and homogeneous. Smell is non-distinctive. No spore mass observed.
This is possibly a specimen of Lycoperdon perlatum (a.k.a. Gem-studded Puffball), a common summer-fall mushroom, which is edible when young. The taste is described as being inferior to Calvatias and because of it's small size, one should be careful not to mistake if for Amanita buds.

Roody, WC. Mushrooms of West Virginia and Appalachians. Pages 440 and  445.

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