Pear-shaped, yellowish brownish puffball with a pore at the top. Grows in large clusters on decaying wood. July–November. Fruiting body pear-shaped; outside yellowish to brownish; inside pure white; surface with tiny warts; base attached to wood by strands of mycelium. When mature, a pore opening at the top releases spores. Spore print olive brown. Spores magnified are round, smooth.
Lookalikes: Pigskin puffball (Scleroderma citrinum) is brownish; inside it is dark brownish purple. Gem-studded puffball (L. perlatum) is white with dense spiny warts; it fruits on the ground (not on wood). Some other mushrooms, including the deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera), have young "button" stages that resemble puffballs. Make sure you cut through puffballs from 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: ½–1½ inches; height: ½–1¾ inches.
Habitat and conservation:
Grows in large clusters on decaying wood, logs, and stumps. The genus name Lycoperdon translates to “wolf fart,” from the Greek “lyco” meaning “wolf” and “perdon” meaning “break wind.”
Distribution in Missouri:
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.
This species spends most of the year as a network of fungal cells (mycelium) that penetrates into dead wood, digesting and decaying the wood. 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 wood. It and other such saprobic fungi play an incredibly important role in breaking down the tough materials wood is made of and returning those nutrients to the soil.