For many, fall is best appreciated for the beautiful display of leaf color and irresistible weather – typically mild, sunny and dry here in central Indiana. This fall, however, conditions were right for recognizing an old favorite in the landscape – giant puffball mushrooms. We’ve found many of these delightful specimens throughout the IMA gardens; they keep popping out all over the place! Giant puffballs are often found in more open woods and grassy areas, which makes them both visible and easily accessible. Sadly, a good number were kicked apart prematurely by folks attempting to explode the trillions of spores encased inside the ballooning gleba (white mass that houses the spores) and release a puffy cloud of spores into the air. I realize it’s irresistible, the desire to destroy these alien-looking, spongy bubbles. How can one deny an urge that so exemplifies the spirit of a child’s delight with nature? Yet I know that the anticipation was met with a rather anticlimactic squelching; the spores were not yet ripe. The result was a disappointingly flat pile of flaky white chunks that just doesn’t garner the same reaction as that of a soaring spore cloud.
The mushrooms were fresh and new, with firm white flesh that is at its best for flavor and edibility. It’s not until the puffball has turned brown, discolored and inedible, when the outer flesh has started to break apart, that they are primed and ready to be sent sailing through the air. I wish people would wait until the mushrooms are ready, when they aren’t as visually appealing, so other people can enjoy seeing them in the garden and perhaps have the opportunity to share something unfamiliar and intriguing with their kiddos. Please consider this before acting on perfunctory impulse.