| Sep 28, 2006

Nature Reflections

Back toHome

Nature Reflections - September 28, 2006

Skull-Shaped Puffballs

by Jean Griffin

Puffballs are often found in the fall, sometimes growing in fields, or along the edge of the woods, and for mushroom-aficionados, one of the few mushrooms that you can hunt while driving along the road in your automobile - the large ones are easily spotted.

One of these puffballs is the Calvatia craniiformis, or the Skull-shaped Puffball, so-called because of a sometimes striking resemblance to a human skull. From 8 to 20 cm. broad and 6 to 20 cm tall, white to tan, with a skin that is smooth at first but then cracking and flaking with age, its thick, pointed base connects to a fibrous fungus that rises from the ground. As it ages the skin will eventually slough away, exposing a powdery yellow-brown spore mass. After the spores blow away the cup-shaped base remains, sometimes over the winter.


It is considered an edible prize while still white and firm inside, and you cook it by cutting away the cuticle (covering) if it is encrusted with dirt. Don’t wash it under water as it will become too soggy to saute. Slice it, saute it, or simmer it in soups, or it can be baked or grilled. The texture is soft and the flavour rich and savory. For those who like to store long-range, you can cook it and freeze it.

One author states that while this mushroom is a choice one, he prefers the purple-spored puffball, Calvatia cyathiformis, more often found on grassy areas, and which tends to be round or slightly flattened without the prominent stem, or the inverted pear or skull shape of the Skull-shaped Puffball.

Quite common in eastern North America usually from August to October, it is safe to pick and eat both these puffballs, as there are no poisonous look-alikes. **Note: Poisonous immature amanitas still encased in their volvas can look like puffballs. It is very important to slice puffballs, especially small ones, in half to make sure they truly are puffballs.

Observations: Helm, in Oconto, found some of these Skull-shaped Puffballs on September 19. Then on the 22nd he was amazed by the huge number of black birds that descended on his property, a mixture of Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds and possibly Red-winged or Rusty Blackbirds. Such a flock can be a common sight as they gather in vast numbers preparing for their migration to the south for the winter. Share your sightings, call Jean at 613-268-2518 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.