Go for a walk in the woods or in a field, and you might see them: big mushrooms, the size of a soccer ball, strewn on the ground like rocks. If you see one, you are bound to see others.
These snow-white mushrooms are common in late summer and early fall. About the size of a soccer ball or bowling ball, some can grow quite large, up to 30 inches in diameter.
Johanna Zimmerly found such a mushroom in her front yard in the eastern part of Frederick. She brought the curious specimen to Susan Trice, Senior Associate Officer for the University of Maryland Extension in Frederick County. Trice identified the mushroom as a giant puffball.
“If it’s totally white when you cut it, you can slice it, cook it and eat it,” Zimmerly said. After Trice told her what the mushroom was, Zimmerly knew she had seen one before, but she had never seen one as big as the one in her garden.
Zimmerly’s mushroom was white, but turned brown with age. At this point, according to literature from the extension office, it is too late to eat the mushroom. Toxic spores were released.
Mushrooms are large white globes, with smooth skin and without a distinct cap or stem. Although they are round, they may not be perfectly round. The smooth skin can be interrupted by a few shallow craters.
Giant puffballs are found from August to October and grow all over North America and Europe.
They are heavy. Zimmerly’s puffball weighed about 7 pounds. According to the Cornell Mushroom blog, the largest puffball of all time was 8 feet, 8 inches in diameter and weighed 48 pounds. Other reports say the largest puffball was 5 feet 6 inches in diameter. Fifty years ago, AH LaBrush would have found two puffballs behind the post office in Jefferson. Each was over 16 inches in diameter and weighed 7 1/4 and 8 1/4 pounds.
If you decide to cook the mushroom, make sure the inside is completely white and smooth. The presence of gills means that the fungus is not a puffball, but a gill fungus. Don’t eat this mushroom. It is a good idea to consult a mycologist, or a mushroom expert, before cooking your mushroom.
There do not appear to be any examples of cultivated puffballs.
However, these fungi tend to grow on cultivated lawns because they love fertilizers. One theory is that they like manure in the grass as well as rotting grass. These puffballs can also be found in deciduous forests. They always grow on the ground, never on logs.