Puffball mushrooms are a delicious and nutritious vegetable, but they are also a fungus that comes in a host of varieties. The puffball mushroom is one that you might stumble upon if you live in Europe, North America, or Asia. There are many things you might wonder about these curious mushrooms, such as do puffballs grow in clumps?
The puffball mushroom is often found growing in clumps or clusters. This is one of many characteristics that can help you determine whether or not the mushroom you’ve stumbled upon is actually a puffball. There are some similar-looking mushrooms that you might mistake for puffballs, which can be dangerous as those particular mushrooms are not edible.
The puffball gets its name from its bulbous, ball-like appearance, and aren’t often found growing on their own unless they haven’t had a chance to release their spores.
Do Puffballs Grow In Clumps?
Puffball mushrooms come in many sizes, but will usually be found growing close together. It might be hard to tell that these clumps are a collection of mushrooms until you get closer, as they don’t look like the typical mushroom with a head and a stem. Not all puffballs are perfectly round, especially when they are small and still young.
These clumps tend to consist of anywhere from a few mushrooms to a large collection of mushrooms bundled together very closely. This can make these mushrooms easier to forage than many other kinds, since you’ll likely find a lot of them in one place.
Some bigger puffballs may not be found in clumps, though this could be because they haven’t had a chance to release their spores yet. The release of their spores can be a little bit smelly, but it’s an important part of their ecology. If you find any while outdoors, you can gently step on one to help them spread their seeds and increase the size of their clump.
Why Do Puffballs Grow In Clumps?
The puffball’s ability to grow in clumps is partially due to the way they release their spores. If you were to break open a puffball, you’ll notice a puff of what looks like smoke emanating from it. This is another reason why they’re called puffballs.
The size of a puffball will determine how many spores will puff out of them, which will subsequently determine how large their clump might grow. Larger puffballs can have literally trillions of spores, but not all spores are going to turn into puffballs.
Interestingly enough, the Latin name for a puffball is lycoperdon, which translates to wolf’s fart. It’s a fitting name, since the spores appear to burst out of the mushroom like gas, and the mushrooms as well as its spores release a very unpleasant odor.
It’s recommended if you step on one, you hold your breath until you can move away from the spores. For some people, the gassy spores can irritate their throats and noses.
Where Do Puffballs Grow?
Puffballs tend to bloom from the ground, typically in areas with some dirt. They can be found growing in lawns, forests, fields, and other plots of land with dirt and/or grass. They enjoy eating up fertilizers, so it’s not unlikely you’ll find them blooming in well-manicured lawns in a variety of settings.
Unlike many other types of mushrooms, puffballs do not grow on logs or trees. They tend to start emerging from the ground once summer is coming to an end, and continue to grow throughout the fall. If you live in a region that stays warm throughout the year, puffballs may grow outside of their regular seasonal preferences.
You might occasionally stumble upon some puffballs growing from dead wood or branches. These logs, stumps, or branches will likely be found on the ground since that’s where the mushrooms originally emerge from.
How To Identify A Puffball Mushroom
If you think you’ve found puffballs but want to be sure, there are some ways to distinguish them from other similar looking fungi. The easiest way is to pick one and cut it open. Inside, the mushroom should be white and solid. Any internal color variation or texture is your indication that you don’t actually have a puffball.
Some puffballs might start to yellow inside as they mature. If you notice dark coloring inside the mushroom, or see any type of lines or texture, it is extremely likely that you have a different mushroom that is most likely dangerous for you to consume.
How Big Do Puffballs Grow?
The puffball can grow to be quite an enormous mushroom. If you stumble across a clump of puffball mushrooms, they’ll be nearly impossible to miss. That said, there is quite the great variation in terms of how small or how big puffballs become.
Puffballs have been found to grow anywhere from four inches to 20 inches tall. In terms of diameter, some puffballs can reach up to 60 inches around. These mushrooms can also be quite heavy when they grow large, with some of the biggest weighing around 40 pounds.
Can I Eat Puffballs?
You can only eat a puffball mushroom safely when they are still relatively new, or young. As they mature, they are no longer edible. You’ll be able to tell their age by how they feel in your hand; if they’re soft, they shouldn’t be eaten.
Unless you’re an experienced forager, or are accompanied by one, it might not be worth the risk. These mushrooms aren’t as delicious as some of the ones you can find at your local farmer’s market. Furthermore, there are some mushrooms that look a lot like puffballs, but are actually very toxic no matter how young or old they are.
Puffball mushrooms seem to like to spread themselves out, which makes sense because of how they grow together in clumps. Whether you’re looking to become a mushroom forager or just want to know what’s growing in your backyard, you likely won’t be able to forget these distinctive mushrooms once you stumble upon them for the first time.