A Closer Look at Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Perhaps you've seen some giant puffball mushrooms in a meadow. As you stare at one of the huge globes a thought comes to mind....

I cannot wait to kick this thing!

Well, wait a little longer! First off if the mushroom is white it is still immature and hasn't produced spores yet. So you won't kick up the desired spore cloud quite yet. Secondly there is more to the puffball than meets the eye.

Let's take a closer look at Calvatia gigantea. I'll start with some basic facts and move on to how to eat puffballs (yes, you can eat them). Finally I'll share some medicinal uses.

 

Click here to share a puffball story with visitors to this page!

More info about puffball identification and cultivation is here.

 

Giant Puffball Mushroom Facts

 

  • giant puffball mushroom - Calvatia giganteaThe latin name for the giant puffball is Calvatia gigantea. An older term, Langermannia gigantea, is no longer used.
  • Giant puffballs are saprotrophs, meaning they feed on dead organic matter. They're more likely found in meadows and grasslands than in the forest. They are always found growing on the ground rather than up in trees.
  • They often re-appear in the same place each year. This has caused some people to suspect they may be mycorrhizal rather than saprotrophic, but this has not been proven.
  • These mushrooms fruit in late summer to early fall. Despite their large size this happens quickly. The fruit body will appear in about a week's time.
  • Young giant puffballs have a white, fleshy interior. They become brown and discolored when past their prime and ready to release spores (see the picture below). They are also not edible at this stage.
  • All puffball mushrooms bear spores inside the mushroom rather than through external gills.
  • giant puffball mushroom gone to sporeThe exterior of the mushroom will eventually crack to release spores. This process is usually hurried along by weather, animals, and humans.
  • A mature giant puffball contains trillions of spores!
  • There are many types of puffballs but the giant variety are mainly found to the east of the Rocky Mountains. They are spread through the central and eastern United States, Canada, and Europe.
  • Giant puffballs are well named! They typically grow between 10 and 70 cm (around 4 to 27 inches). One of the largest specimens on record was 150 cm (59 inches)!

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Giant Puffballs at the Dinner Table

 

Giant puffball mushrooms are edible. Some say they have no real taste of their own and just absorb the flavors around them like tofu. Others have described their taste as rich, earthy, and nutty (good descriptions, I think).

giant puffball mushrooms for saleIf you're lucky enough to live in an area where they're sold you can pick one up at the store. The picture to the right shows puffballs and other mushrooms for sale at a store in the UK.

The rest of us will have to find them in the wild. There are two main concerns with harvesting them: correctly identifying the mushroom and picking it at the right age.

Correct identification is crucial. If you think you've found a giant puffball the first thing to do is cut it open. It should have thick, hard, white flesh inside. Don't eat anything with a brown, black, purple, or yellow interior. It may be an earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) or some other gastric distress inducing mushroom.

This white flesh should be solid with no gills. If you see any evidence of gills disregard immediately. Some species, including the deadly Amanita, have a "universal veil" of tissue that surrounds the mushroom when young. This can make it look like a puffball.

Inexperienced hunters should check with someone knowledgeable if they think they've found a giant puffball. An incorrect guess can kill if it turns out to be an Aminita! Please be careful.

Learn more about giant puffball mushroom identification here.

If you are certain you've found the right mushroom it should also be the right age. Only the younger, immature giant puffballs are edible. Again make sure the flesh is white and solid. Anything brown, broken, soft, or full of brown, dusty spores is too mature to eat.

Eat puffball mushrooms soon after harvesting as they don't keep well. You may find them too mushy after freezing and thawing. It is possible to dry and reconstitute them although they may be a little tough.

The most popular way to eat them is to fry in oil with a batter (really good). These mushrooms can be a versatile food item. Some other quick ideas to enjoy them:

  • Sautéed alone or with vegetables.
  • Broiled alone with a marinade or in conjunction with another recipe.
  • Dice them into smaller pieces and stir fry in place of tofu.
  • Use instead of eggplant in any recipe. Giant puffballs are a great replacement for eggplant!
  • Remove the top and hollow out the mushroom into a bowl. Cook the hollowed out pieces with some other ingredients (peppers, spices, whatever you like) and place back into the puffball shell. Wrap the whole thing in foil and bake in the oven, checking on it occasionally to see if it's done. Delicious!

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Other Uses for Giant Puffballs

 

Giant puffball mushrooms have possible medicinal uses as well. Remember those trillions of spores they produce? The dried spores can slow bleeding if they're used as a coagulant. They were reportedly used in Native American folk medicine to treat bleeding and prevent infection.

The use of Calvatia gigantea in folk medicine led researchers to to investigate it further. In the 1960's they isolated the substance calvacin, which was shown to inhibit sarcoma in lab mice. Calvacin is now cited as one of the first substances with antitumor activity isolated from a mushroom.

Unfortunately I am unable to find any detailed experiments on calvacin or giant puffballs on the web. If you know of something, or if you just want to tell someone about the huge puffball you found in your yard, please contact me.

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Found a Huge Giant Puffball?

A large puffball mushroom always imparts a sense of fun whimsy and imagination. If you have a puffball picture or story to share, here's the place to show it off!

Read What Other Visitors Have Said

Click on the links below to see some fun puffball posts. They were all written by other visitors to this page.

Puffball Propagation 
Hello, I have no photos to go with this story, but I have been fortunate to find many wild puffballs in North Carolina since I moved here 12 years ago. …

Motocross Track Produces Dozens of Giant Puffballs 
The Pocatello Motocross Park, located near Pocatello, Idaho, produces a steady crop of giant puffball mushrooms each season. Discovered while expanding …

Puffball-Mushrooms-in-My-Backyard 
Yesterday I picked one of the four puffball mushrooms that showed up this year on my mulch pile. Put it in the fridge overnight and this afternoon sliced …

Giant-Puffball-Sightings-2011 
About a week ago we noticed a roughly circular group of very large, strikingly white puffball mushrooms in our backyard. They are positioned in a "pet …

Love Fried Puffballs 
My Dad had a friend who owned a farm with a hardwood bush outside of our town in Guelph, Ont, Canada. He would take the 3 of us out (we were small children …

Best Puffball Pizza Ever!! 
One day I went camping with my Dad's friend. He is a Mushroom Hunter. It was really cool to hear all of his stories and to see him try to figure out one …

The Dirt Forge 
I have a theory on how to grow a better puffball. Have you heard that when a wild fire begins, many plants grow in the burnt patch because of the nutrients …

Biggest Puffball 
My son Finley (9) found a puffball that measured 66.5 inches and weighed 16kg on l2/10/10 in Huddersfield, England. It was reported in the Huddersfield …

Two Mushrooms in the Front Yard 
My husband started telling me about these mushrooms in the front yard this morning. He said at first, he thought that they were skins of cantaloupe which …

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Giant Puffball in Ontario - Last weekend we found a giant puffball mushroom growing in the forest behind the garage at our cottage in Ontario ...

Giant Puffball in Michigan - A puffball approximately 24-1/4" around grew in our Lower Michigan backyard ...

 

Picture 1 by Sulfur and is from Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Picture 2 by Brendan M. Thomas and is from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License.

Picture 3 by Nathan Lee and is from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License.