Puffballs are round or pear-shaped fruiting bodies that contain
spores. They sit directly on the ground or on rotten wood. They range from
golf ball size to as large as a watermelon. A big specimen of the giant
puffball (Calvatia gigantea) can be almost two feet long and
contain 7,000,000,000,000 (7 trillion) spores.
For comparison, there are about 31.6 million seconds in a year. If you
held your breath for 7 trillion seconds, youd be breathless for 221,
The giant puffball cracks open to allow the wind to carry away its spores. Other puffballs have a small opening at the top. The wind may suck spores out of these openings like smoke drawn from a chimney. The spores can also be puffed out of the opening when the fruiting body is hit by raindrops (earth stars, for example).
Giant Puffball Earth Star Puffball
The spores are incredibly tiny. Each spore is 3.5 to 5.5 microns
(0.00014 to 0.00019 inches) in diameter. They are bone dry, making a
mature giant puffball a sack of fine powder. The Lakota tribe of Native
Americans used this clean dry material in their medicine. They would pack
large wounds with puffball spores to slow bleeding and help blood clot.
Giant puffballs are found in the central and eastern USA and Canada. During late Summer and Fall, look for them in meadows, under small stands of trees, and around forest openings.
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Last update: 2 Sep 96. © 1996, Robert Fogel, Ivins, UT 84738. Edited by Patricia Rogers.