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Giant Puffball Mushroom Identification | Calvatia gigantea

Complete Guide To Giant Puffball Mushrooms Identification - How To Identify Calvatia Gigantea - Habitat, Season, Appearance, Spores

Giant Puffball Mushroom Identification Guide. Calvatia gigantea, commonly known as Giant Puffball has gained popularity online since the pandemic. This “strange” fungus is currently trending on TikTok in thousands of identification, hunting, and culinary videos!

For inexperienced foragers, a mature Giant Puffball is probably the safest mushroom to hunt. It bears only a passing resemblance to a football when spotted from a distance.

While these mushrooms can be found all over the world and make for a great meal, it’s important to know how to identify one accurately.

Complete Guide to Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) Mushroom Identification

In this Giant Puffball Mushroom Identification blog post, we’ll be taking a deep dive into everything you need to know about C. gigantea. By the end of this post, you should feel confident enough to spot a Puffball mushroom with ease!

1. What is Puffball Mushrooms?

list of true puffballs species - Pear-shaped Apioperdo, Brown Bovista, Brain Calvatia, Sculpted Calvatia, Common Lycoperdon, Spiny Lycoperdon

Puffballs are not a single species, but rather a group of mushrooms from several genera such as Apioperdon, Bovista, Calvatia, and Lycoperdon. They are saprobic fungi. Which means they do not parasitize other species. Instead, they decompose dead organic matter, such as decomposing leaves, to grow.

All Puffball mushrooms are cased within a one- or two-layered skin that has the shape of a ball. Their interior when they are young is white and firm. But as they ripen and dry, they become a mass of brown, powdery spores. Thus, true Puffballs are edible only when picked young.

The Giant Puffball Mushroom derived its name from looking like a huge ball that puffs a spore cloud.

Calvatia gigantea, Lycoperdon giganteum, Giant Puffball - Etymology, Other Names, Taxonomic History - August Johann Georg Karl Batsch, Gasteromycetes

1.1. Etymology

Its scientific name Calvatia gigantea derives from the Latin word calvus meaning “bald,” and gigantea meaning “like that of the giants.”

1.2. Other Names

Calvatia gigantea was previously or less commonly referred to as Lycoperdon giganteum, Globaria gigantea, Lasiosphaera gigantea, Langermannia gigantea, and Bovista gigantea.

1.3. Taxonomic History

Puffballs—including Common Puffballs, Earthstars, Earthballs, Eyeballs, Stalked Puffballs—Stinkhorns, and Birds nests fungi previously belonged to the now outdated and polyphyletic class Gasteromycetes.

Polyphyletic describes taxonomic groups that have similar character states that descend from one or more ancestral lineages. Most taxonomists reject the use of this taxa.

Gasteromycetes translates to “stomach fungi.” Which means they produce their spores inside a spherical fruiting body that an outer skin initially encloses.

The Lakota tribe of Native Americans known to utilize mushrooms for wound care, as food, and as ornament

According to the Dictionary of Fungi (1995), Gasteromycetes was already declared invalid. It is not currently acceptable to keep it in a natural classification due to its polyphyletic nature. Now, Giant Puffball Mushrooms belong to the division Basidiomycota.

Basidiomycota is a large group of fungi with over 30,000 species. They include many familiar mushrooms—bracket fungi, Puffballs, earth balls, earth stars, stinkhorns, false truffles, and jelly fungi.

The Native Americans like the Lakota tribe were familiar with Puffballs. They are used as medicine, food, and ornament. Some tribes would wrap dried ones around their necks to help ward off ghosts and bad spirits.

mushroom grow kit from spores

2. Where and when do Giant Puffballs grow?

Where do Giant Puffballs grow - Location, Habitat, Growing Season - North America, Europe, Asia - meadows, fields, woods - fairy ring - late summer to early fall, July to September

2.1. Location and Habitat

Giant Puffball mushrooms are found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, often at high elevations (3,000 to 11,000 feet). They grow in open areas such as meadows, fields or grasslands, and woods, often near deciduous trees.

The mushrooms can also be found in areas that have been disturbed by humans. Such as parks, gardens, logging roads, and construction sites.

They can grow individually or in a small circular group—a fairy ring. According to folklore, mushroom fairy rings bring good luck and are a sign of an underground fairy village.

Places of Interest - 10,225 Observations of Giant Puffball Calvatia gigantea - iNaturalist - Asia, Oceania, Russia, Fiji, Chukot, Northern division, Shmidtovskiy rayon, Iyul'tinskiy rayon, Lau, Cakaudrove

Places of Interest (based on 10,225 Observations posted in iNaturalist)
      • Asia, continent
      • Oceania, continent
      • Russia, country
      • Fiji, country
      • Chukot, state
      • Northern, division
      • Shmidtovskiy rayon, district
      • Iyul’tinskiy rayon, district
      • Lau, province
      • Cakaudrove, province

2.2. Fruiting Season

Giant Puffballs typically fruit from late summer to early fall, from July to September in America. In Britain and Ireland, they can be found sprouting up to late November. The most abundant finds are between mid-August to mid-October.

They fruit in the same place every year and typically occur days after heavy rain or watering.

3. What are Giant Puffball Mushroom’s identifying characteristics?

Giant Puffballs are one of the most easily identifiable mushrooms, due to their large size and simple round shape. They can range in size from a tennis ball to a beach ball! From afar, it can look like a sheep and sometimes, just be mistaken as a pile of white plastic trash.

3.1. Fruiting Body

3.1.1. Shape

Giant Puffball identification - fruiting body shape - round globose oval lopsided, sunken areas

It has a round, globose, but lopsided solid fruiting body that contains spores. Sometimes, it has irregular shapes and looks more oval, egg-shaped, or like a peach.

Once the outer skin has cracked, the mycelial cord often breaks, allowing the Puffball to roll around and spread its spores.

Unlike other Puffballs, Giant Puffball lacks a sterile base. In other Puffballs, the sterile base easily distinguishes itself from the spore-filled gleba.

Gleba is the fleshy spore-bearing inner mass of certain fungi such as the puffball.

3.1.2. Size & Weight

Giant Puffball identification - Size & Weight - golfball basketball size - 4–27 inches in diameter up to 20 kilograms - Ottawa Valley 35.58 pounds 16 kg puffball

It might be as small as a golf ball or a size of a soccer ball. It typically grows between 4–27 inches in diameter. But can reach up to 59 inches and weigh up to 20 kilograms!

mushroom grow kit from spores

Not surprisingly, the world’s largest edible fungi in the Guinness World Record was a Giant Puffball species. It measured 2.64 m (8 ft 8 in) in circumference (roughly 84 cm in diameter), and weighed 22 kg (48 lb.)!

world's largest edible fungi - Guinness World Record 1987 Jean-Guy Richard of Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1987 - 22 kg, 2.64 m (8 ft 8 in) in circumference

It was found by Jean-Guy Richard of Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1987. However, no photos of this record are available online. Just imagine a work desk 84 cm in width. In weight, it is equivalent to a healthy 7-year-old child.

3.1.3. Texture

Giant Puffball identification - exterior layer has smooth leathery texture - wrinkled at the base with root-like mycelium - tofu or marshmallow-like interior

It has a smooth, leathery outer layer that you can peel. The outer layer serves as a good barrier against dirt getting into the edible portion of the mushroom. When held, it feels like a firm styrofoam.

The base is wrinkled. And while there is no stem, there is a rootlike attachment to the ground that connects to the underground mycelium.

As a Giant Puffball matures, it develops uneven cracks or shallow craters like that of baked bread. You’ll see the inner flesh is solid when cut from top to bottom. Also, the insides have a marshmallow or tofu-like texture.

3.1.4. Color

Giant Puffball Identification - Interior and Exterior color - outer layer white or cream fresh young - firm purely white flesh - turns yellowish or olive-green, develops cracks as it ages

The outer layer is white or cream when fresh and young, like a white eggshell. But as it ages, it turns yellow, olive, to brown. Eventually, the outer skin cracks and releases millions of mature spores.

It has a white interior and pure white flesh. Somehow, it may look like feta cheese. However, as it ages, it starts to change in color. Consequently, it will undergo tunneling (forming of large air pockets) from the base where the mycelial cord attaches.

3.2. Spores

Giant Puffball Identification - brown powdery mass when old, 3.5 to 5.5 microns round olive-brownish wart-like projections - Alex Hyde Calvatia gigantea alse-colored scanning electron micrograph

They have olive or brownish spores that appear round when viewed under a microscope. Each spore is about 3.5 to 5.5 microns, with a smooth surface and wart-like projections.

4. Are there any edible and poisonous Giant Puffball lookalikes?

Warning - Puffballs Poisonous Lookalikes - deadly Death Cap Amanita phalloides egg stage - lethal Destroying Angel Amanita verna before cap opens - amatoxins cause organ failure and death

Yes! Giant Puffball is an edible Puffball, and two of its non-poisonous lookalikes are False Puffball and Red-Belted Conk. But be careful as there are some poisonous lookalikes. The most common of these is a species of Amanita mushroom—Destroying Angel, which is deadly if eaten.

*Giant Puffball Mushroom (Calvatia gigantea) Edible and Poisonous Lookalikes soon to publish

mushroom grow kit from spores

Key Takeaways | Giant Puffball Mushroom Identification

Overall, Giant Puffball is a distinct fungi species that are easy to identify. Remember that Giant Puffballs have two distinct characteristics: a round white leather-like exterior that can be peeled off and a firm purely white and tofu-like interior or flesh.

Furthermore, keep in mind that there are some potentially dangerous lookalikes out there. As a general rule, NEVER eat any suspected Giant Puffball that is smaller than an adult’s palm in size. It could be a lethal Amanita in its button stage, 

So do your research before eating any fungi. Now go out and explore! Happy mushroom foraging! :)

Beginner’s Guide to Mushroom Foraging - Mushroom Hunting 101 - Edible Wild Mushroom - Curative Mushrooms

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FDA DISCLAIMER

Curative Mushrooms has to post the standard FDA Disclaimer…The statements made regarding medicinal mushrooms have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. Curative Mushrooms is not making claims intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from healthcare practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before consuming the medicinal mushrooms. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Curative Mushrooms nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

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Jess is a Feature Writer and a Psychometrist with an interest in exploring emerging mental health and wellness issues. She came across the fantastic world of functional mushrooms through the Curative Mushrooms online community. Since then, she has taken an interest in growing mushrooms, exploring their medicinal and therapeutic potential and the current ethical and legal issues surrounding them.

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