Ghoulish puffballs now in local woods

Although at little out of the plant realm, fall is puffball mushroom season.  While fall botanizing in open woods, I often come across these startling-look fungi.  At first glance they look just like human skulls stuck in the ground.  When they first come up they are bright white, then they fade to a very skull-like yellow-brownish color.  As they age and dry, the turn papery on the outside and, when bumped, puff out a cloud of spores.

Skull-like puffball

Skull-like puffball

Puffballs are reportedly edible (warning: I never advocate eating anything from the wild unless you are an expert at identification) and I have tried them (my husband, Dr. Tom Dolan is a mycologist and identifies mushrooms for the Indiana Poison Control Center).  Puffballs are the consistency of tofu or mushy Styrofoam, but suck up flavor from sautéed butter.

The puffball is the “fruit” of a mushroom that spends most of its time as tiny filaments called mycelia that spread through the soil making a living as decomposers.  When conditions are right, they produce puffballs as fruiting bodies to disperse their spores.

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