Thursday, February 21, 2013

Native Species Profile - Gem-studded Puffball

Fungi are some of the most interesting organisms on earth.  Once lumped with plants, many species actually behave more like animals.  Fungi cannot make their own food like plants can, instead they rely on other organisms for their food.  Some species form symbiotic relationships with plants - a relationship that benefits both species - collecting water and nutrients that is shares with the plant and receiving plant starches (food) in exchange.  Other species are parasitic - invading living organisms and stealing food from them.  Many species of fungi are saprophytic.  This means that they break down dead and decaying organism for their food.

The Gem-Studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) is a fungus that is found throughout the world and has been reported on every continent except Antarctica. In North America, it is found from the sub-arctic down to Mexico and into Central America.  It is found growing on the ground where it breaks down decaying organic matter.

A cluster of Gem-Studded Puffballs at Forest Hill Nature Area

Gem-studded Puffballs can be found in woodlands, grasslands, and lawn.  They will grow anywhere there is enough organic matter to provide food and enough water to survive.  They often grow in large clusters and can form "fairy rings" over time.  

Gem-studded puffballs can be found from summer into fall.  The puffballs in these photographs were found in early October.  They do not reach the size of some other puffballs such as the Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) which often reach sizes of 12 to 24 inches but can grow much larger.

A Giant Puffball with baseball cap for size comparison

Individual Gem-studded Puffballs can reach a size of three inches by three inches.  They are white colored but become yellow-brown with age. They are covered with raised bumps or "gems".  

They are edible when young but care must be taken not to confuse the with Amanita Mushrooms which can be deadly if eaten.  I personally do not like to eat most mushrooms, but I would never eat any wild mushroom unless it has been identified by an expert.  This is a good rule for any wild food, never eat anything in the wild that you cannot identify with 100% certainty
A close-up of Gem-Studded Puffballs
A young Amanita mushroom for comparison

Basic Information

Gem-studded Puffball 
Lycoperdon perlatum 
Size:  to 3” wide, to 3” tall

Habitat:  woodlands, roadsides, suburban areas 

Color:  white, ageing to yellow-brown 

Time Found:  summer – fall


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