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Danny’s DNA Discoveries – Lycoperdaceae of the PNW (Puffballs)
by Danny Miller

Click here for my Pictorial Key to the Puffballs


Puffballs are roughly spherical gastroid mushrooms that typically fruit on the ground and above ground, unlike most truffles and false truffles. They often (but not always) have a thin, soft exterior and the uniform texture of a white marshmallow inside when fresh. The spongy white interior discolours to olive-brownish (or other shade of brown) then eventually turns to a dark powder and can escape the puffball, sometimes puffing out through a single small pore at the top. If you step on an old one, you'll create a cloud of smoke (see photo above). There may be a sterile base area, a part of the interior that doesn't turn to powder like the rest of it, but otherwise the interior is uniform - no columella (aborted stem) inside, and no outline of a gilled mushroom (like an Amanita egg that might be deadly poisonous). Some people eat puffballs in their fresh, white marshmallow stage, but their quality varies dramatically from species to species and they are easily mistaken for poisonous earthballs, false truffles and Amanita eggs.

Most puffballs have two distinctive layers of what I sometimes call a skin or rind holding the puffball together, the exterior exoperidium and the interior endoperidium. When I say a puffball is thin skinned or has a thick rind, I am referring to both layers collectively. If either of the layers is thick and/or hard, or if collectively they are significantly thick or hard I will refer to it as a thick skinned puffball. Often what happens is the exterior layer eventually falls away and a pore opens up in the interior layer, letting the spores "puff" out. Sometimes both layers break away unevenly exposing the spores inside.

Those with thicker rinds, that don't open up a pore are easily confused with earthballs (with a purple-black interior that does not turn to powder). Some false truffles are also spongy with thin rinds, but they do not eventually turn to powder inside, and are more likely to be found at least partially buried.

Puffballs are in the dark spored sub order of gilled mushrooms, along with the bird's nests.

abundant common uncommon rare - colour codes match my Pictorial Key and are my opinions and probably reflect my bias of living in W WA. Rare species may be locally common in certain places at certain times.

Abstoma, Apioperdon, Bovista, Disciseda, Mycenastrum - click to expand

See descriptions of each genus below.

Species mentioned: Lycoperdon pyriforme.

Calvatia - click to expand

Usually white, often somewhat large (>6 cm in diameter), where the skin breaks away irregularly, not forming a pore at the top. Usually there is not a clear outer and inner layer breaking apart separately, or if so, the interior layer is not shiny (except in the distinctive species C. rubroflava).

Some species of Calvatia have ended up sequencing inside of Lycoperdon, so the actual distinction between the two genera is blurry right now and you'll need to check Lycoperdon too. It should be investigated if the Calvatia-like species that moved to Lycoperdon are the ones where you can easily separate the outer and inner skin (or that have a shiny interior skin). Also consider Mycenastrum, only distinguishable by breaking up into rays like an earthstar when mature and by being somewhat felty when young.

Species mentioned: Langermannia. Calvatia booniana, gigantea, pachyderma, cyathiformis, fragilis, rubrotincta, candida, rubroflava, rugosa, lacerata, paradoxa, owyheensis, pallida, tatrensis var. gruberi, ochrogleba, lloydii.

Lycoperdon - click to expand

Latin for "wolf fart". Typically thought of as smaller species <6 cm in diameter that form a pore at the top to let the spores puff out. I will describe those species first.

Some species of Calvatia and all species of Calbovista, Gastropila, Handkea and Vascellum that I know of have sequenced inside of Lycoperdon so the this genus is now hard to characterize. After the typical species, I will describe those that are larger (6-15 cm across) and do not open up a pore to release the spores. As those resemble Calvatia, check that section too. Finally, some Calvatia that haven't been sequenced yet no doubt still need to be moved to Lycoperdon. It should be investigated if the Calvatia-like species that moved to Lycoperdon are typically the ones where you can easily separate the outer and inner skin (or that have a shiny interior skin). That does not seem to always be the case, as L. vernimontanum n.p. does not have separable layers. One final note: the typical and atypical Lycoperdon do not cluster into two distinct clades, but seem to be somewhat mixed in the tree together, which somewhat surprised me.

Species mentioned: Lycoperdon curtisii, marginatum, pulcherimum, pyriforme, perlatum, dermoxanthum, floccosum, molle, nettyanum, nigrescens, foetidum, rimulatum, subincarnatum, umbrinum, subumbrinum, vernimontanum n.p., excipuliforme, utriforme, bovista. Bovistella utriforme. Calbovista subsculpta. Calvatia bovista, sculpta, subcretacea. Gastropila fumosa, hesperia. Handkea. Vascellum pratense, lloydianum.

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