Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Giant Puffball Mushroom, Calvatia gigantea

On Saturday, September twenty fifth, my friend, the Fungi Finder, and I went for a walk at Charleston Falls. We saw lots of Giant Puffballs off the trail as well as many destroyed puffballs along the trail.

We debated what the reason might be for the destroyed puffballs.

On Sunday, Tom and I went to Charleston Falls again. I wanted to count puffballs and I wanted Tom to see I wasn't exaggerating about the number in the woods. He took his Canon EOS.

He was impressed with the first patch of seven large puffballs, some nearly as large as soccer balls and many bigger than softballs. We saw Dan, one of the rangers, a little further up the trail. The three of us had an interesting discussion about the puffballs and other fungi. He said he knows people who eat the giant puffballs but he doesn't. He says he is wary of eating wild mushrooms.

There is an old saying, "There are old mushroom hunters, and bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters." The poisonous mushrooms look very much like the edible ones. And among the puffballs, as with the other groups, there are poisonous mushrooms.

He said that a visitor or visitors to the park had destroyed the ones along the trail. It always makes me sad to hear that someone has destroyed a natural living thing just for the sake of destroying it. Mushrooms have an important place in nature. Some are important as decay organisms. They break down logs, leaves, and other organic debris into essential nutrients which are returned to the soil. Some are beneficial to the trees they grow near. They have a special relationship with the tree roots, providing minerals and water to the tree in exchange for glucose.

Dan told us there was a nice patch of puffballs a few steps further up the trail past the main turnoff which most hikers use. After we left him we took the lesser traveled trail and found these three quite close to the trail.

A few steps further, we found these two even closer.

Tom took the photo below to show the size compared to my hand. I wear a Ladies "Large" in gloves so my hand is not dainty. Giant puffballs can range in size from baseball size to beach ball size. Many are soccer ball size.

This mushroom was already a bit past its prime. It wasn't the beautiful pure white of the one I photographed on Saturday with my keyring beside it for a size comparison.

After Tom took this photo he went back the way we had come and I went forward, retracing the route the Fungi Finder and I took on Saturday, counting puffballs as I went. Even walking rapidly, I counted seventeen off in the woods and nine destroyed ones along the trail. Tom found eleven after he left me. That gave us a grand total of twenty eight puffballs.

Tom and I went back on October fourth for another look at the two puffball close to the trail. This time they looked like this. They could almost be mistaken for rocks.

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