White, rounded to turban-shaped ball with spiny warts and a pore at the top. Grows on the ground. July–October. Fruiting body rounded to turban-shaped with an elongated base; outside white, becoming yellowish to pinkish to brownish; inside pure white, becoming brownish dust; outside covered with spiny, detachable warts, especially dense at the top; when mature, a pore opens at the top to release thick, dusty spores. Spore print olive brownish. Spores magnified are elongated, stalklike.
Lookalikes: Pigskin puffball (Scleroderma citrinum) is brownish; inside it is dark brownish purple. Pear-shaped puffball (L. pyriforme) is brownish, with a smoother surface, and grows on wood. Some other mushrooms, including the deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera), have round, "button" stages that look like puffballs. Make sure you cut through all puffballs, top to bottom, to confirm they are pure white inside, like a marshmallow, with no sign of a developing cap or stem.
Fruiting body width: 1–2½ inches; height: 1–3 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Grows singly or in clusters on the ground in open woods, along roads, and in waste areas. The genus name Lycoperdon translates to “wolf fart,” from the Greek “lyco” meaning “wolf” and “perdon” meaning “break wind.”
Considered an excellent edible mushroom, when young and fresh—with caution. Cut open each puffball from top to bottom to make sure of your identification. Gem-studded puffballs are very common and tasty mushrooms. However, to get a decent meal out of them you have to pick a lot!
This species spends most of the year as a network of fungal cells (mycelium) that penetrate the soil, digesting decaying organic material. When ready to reproduce, the mycelium develops the puffball aboveground. The “ball” is actually a spore sac. When immature, the spore sac is solid inside, but as it matures the inside changes into a mass of powdery spores. The spores puff out from a pore that forms at the top of the sac.
When you are eating a wild mushroom for the first time, even one that is considered a choice edible, it is a good idea to sample only a small amount at first, since some people are simply allergic to certain chemicals in certain fungi. Make sure they are cooked, too.
This is one of the many fungus species that live on decaying organic materials. It and other such saprobic fungi play an incredibly important role in breaking down the tough materials living things are made of and returning those nutrients to the soil.
Mushrooms are a lot like plants, but they lack chlorophyll and have to take nutrients from other materials. Mushrooms are neither plants nor animals. They are in a different kingdom — the fungi. Fungi include the familiar mushroom-forming species, plus the yeasts, molds, smuts, and rusts.
Always be cautious when eating edible mushrooms. Be absolutely sure of the ID, and only eat a small amount the first time you try it to avoid a reaction..