Major Groups > Puffballs



[ Basidiomycota . . . ]

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-bearing flesh. 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. They are all Basidiomycetes, since their spores are produced on basidia--but some belong in the gilled mushroom order (many in the Lycoperdaceae family) while others are more closely related to the boletes and a few are related to the stinkhorns, according to recent DNA research.

If your puffball is growing underground, it may well be a truffle or false truffle. I have not yet treated these mushrooms at MushroomExpert.Com.

Species Pages


Calvatia cyathiformis

Lycoperdon perlatum

Calvatia rugosa

Amanita button
Amanita button in cross-section

Geastrum saccatum

Vascellum curtisii


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

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