Calvatia gigantea, commonly known as the giant puffball, is a puffball mushroom commonly found in meadows, fields, and deciduous forests usually in late summer and autumn. It is found in temperate areas throughout the world.
|Giant puffball with a Magellan eXplorist 200 GPS receiver (11.7 x 5.4 cm) for scale|
|no distinct cap|
|hymenium attachment is not applicable|
|lacks a stipe|
|spore print is brown|
|ecology is saprotrophic|
|edibility: choice or inedible|
Most giant puffballs grow to be 10 to 50 centimetres (4 to 20 inches), sometimes to be 90 cm (35 in) in diameter; although occasionally some can reach diameters up to 150 cm (60 in) and weights of 20 kg (44 lb). The inside of mature giant puffballs is greenish brown, whereas the interior of immature puffballs is white. The large white mushrooms are edible when young.
The fruiting body of a puffball mushroom will develop within the period of a few weeks and soon begin to decompose and rot, at which point it is dangerous to eat. Unlike most mushrooms, all the spores of the giant puffball are created inside the fruiting body; large specimens can easily contain several trillion spores. Spores are yellowish, smooth, and 3–5 μm in size.
The classification of this species has been revised in recent years, as the formerly recognized class Gasteromycetes, which included all puffballs, has been found to be polyphyletic. Some authors place the giant puffball and other members of genus Calvatia in order Agaricales. Also, the species has in the past been placed in two other genera, Lycoperdon and Langermannia. However, the current view is that the giant puffball is Calvatia.
The giant puffball is widespread and common in the UK. It is protected in parts of Poland and is of conservation concern in Norway.
All true puffballs are considered edible when immature, but can cause digestive upset if the spores have begun to form, as indicated by the color of the flesh being not pure white (first yellow, then brown). Immature gilled species still contained within their universal veil can be look alikes for puffballs. To distinguish puffballs from poisonous fungi, they must be cut open; edible puffballs will have a solid white interior. Some similar mushrooms have the white interior (or yellowish) but also have the silhouette of a cap-type mushroom on the interior when cut open. These are young cap-type mushrooms and may be poisonous.
Puffballs are a known styptic and have long been used as wound dressing, either in powdered form or as slices 3 cm thick. The fungus was often harvested prior to battles for this purpose.
It is the main source of the anti-tumor mucoprotein calvacin, which is present only in tiny quantities.
Giant puffballs resemble the earthball (Scleroderma citrinum). The latter are distinguished by a much firmer, elastic fruiting body, and having an interior that becomes dark purplish-black with white reticulation early in development. Scleroderma citrinum is poisonous and may cause mild intoxication.
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