Major Groups > Puffballs



by Michael Kuo

The term "puffball," as I am using it here, is not at all scientific; I mean more or less any mushroom that looks like a ball when mature. Typically the interior of a puffball is composed of spore-producing flesh that turns into spore dust as the mushroom matures. When the puffball matures it splits open, or a perforation develops on surface of the ball, through which the spores escape—when raindrops land on the puffball, via air currents, or by some other means.

Puffballs range widely in size and appearance—from tiny species that grow in clusters on wood, to large, terrestrial species growing in fairy rings in meadows. A few species, like Calvatia gigantea, are enormous, reaching diameters of 50 cm! I am including the "earthstars" with the puffballs since they consist, at maturity, of a puffball sitting atop a star-shaped arrangement of fleshy arms—as well as the so-called "stalked puffballs," which consist of a ball-like spore case that sits atop a stem.

When sliced open, puffballs contain only flesh—or, if they have matured, spore dust. This separates them from buttons of some gilled mushrooms that have universal veils and can appear like puffballs, since those mushrooms display the future mushroom in cross-section. Some slime molds can appear like puffballs, as well, but when sliced open they are filled with gooey, gelatinous material. Stinkhorn "eggs" are also gelatinous inside, and display the stinkhorn-to-be when sliced open.

Taxonomically, the term "puffballs" is incoherent, since they are so diverse and come from many different families and genera (even different phyla!). Many belong in the gilled mushroom order (many in the Lycoperdaceae family) while others are more closely related to the boletes, a few are related to the stinkhorns.

If your puffball is growing underground or partially underground, it may well be a truffle or false truffle. I have not yet treated these mushrooms at MushroomExpert.Com, beyond a few species pages (see Tuber lyonii and Zelleromyces cinnabarinus for examples).

Species Pages


Calvatia cyathiformis

Lycoperdon perlatum

Calvatia rugosa

Amanita button
Amanita button in cross-section

Geastrum saccatum

Lycoperdon curtisii

Calostoma ravenelii


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Kuo, M. (2008, November). Puffballs. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

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