Lycoperdon echinatum Pers. - Spiny Puffball

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Agaricales - Family: Agaricaceae

Lycoperdon echinatum - Spiny Puffball - Forest of Dean

Lycoperdon echinatum, the Spiny Puffball, has a small, globe-shaped head on a very short stipe. The soft reddish-brown spines are in groups of threes. The fine specimen shown here was photographed by Doug Holland to whom we are grateful for permission to show the picture.

Distribution

Lycoperdon echinatum is uncommon in most parts of Britain and Ireland, where it is found most often in beech woodland on alkaline soil. This inedible puffball also occurs in parts of mainland Europe and in North America.

Lycoperdon echinatum - Spiny Puffball - Hampshire, UK

Above is a Spiny Puffball found in Devon, UK; it is a little older and therefore noticeably darker than the younger specimen shown above. As they age the exoperidia (outer skins) of Spiny Puffballs turn darker and tend to lose their spines.

Despite lacking gills, puffballs are now known to be very closely related to the so-called 'true mushrooms', Agaricus species, which include such prized edibles as The Prince, Field Mushroom, and Horse Mushroom. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that some puffballs species (but not this one!) are edible and very good to eat as long as they are gathered while young and still pure white throughout.

Once the spore mass turns olive, edible puffballs are not good to eat - although try telling that to slugs, such as the hungry muncher seen in the top left of the picture opposite!.

Taxonomic history

Lycoperdon echinatum was described and in 1801 by Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, who gave it the scientific name that it has retained to this day. Among its synonyms are Lycoperdon hoylei Berk. & Broome, Utraria echinata (Pers.) Quél., and Lycoperdon americanum Demoulin.

Etymology

The specific epithet echinatum comes from the Greek word echinos meaning ‘hedgehog’ or ‘sea-urchin’. (There is a difference!).

The genus name Lycoperdon literally means 'wolf's flatulence' and begs the question who got close enough to a wolf to become an expert on the matter. For most of us, surely such an odour cannot be considered a particularly helpful diagnostic feature for identifying the Spiny Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum.

Identification guide

Closeup image of spines of Lycoperdon echinatum - Spiny Puffball - Wales, UK

Fruitbody

Typically 2.5 to 5cm across; 3 to 7cm tall; spines typically 4 to 5mm long. A vertically-flattened globe-shaped fruitbody on a short, infertile stem; initially white, soon becoming reddish brown. The soft spines are in sets of three (or occasionally groups of four) that converge at the tips. At maturity the spines fall off leaving a net-like pattern on the browning skin, which eventually ruptures at the apex to release the spores.

Stem

None.

 

Spores

Roughly spherical, 3.5-5.1µm diameter; ornamented with small warts.

Spore mass

Very dark purple-brown.

Odour/taste

Not distinctive.

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic, mainly found in beech woodland in chalk and limestone areas.

Season

July to November in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

Lycoperdon perlatum is paler and covered in warts rather than spines.

Lycoperdon nigrescens has a longer stem; its flesh has a faint but unpleasant odour.

Lycoperdon mammiforme is white at first and then its surface breaks up into large cream scales rather than spines.

Lycoperdon echinatum - Spiny Puffball - Pennsylvania USA

Culinary notes

Although many puffball species are considered good edible fungi the Spiny Puffball is not one of them, and so if gathering puffballs to eat it is important to avoid these very distinctive members of the genus, which in any case are rare in most parts of Britain and Ireland.

For a very easy to recognise edible puffball that cannot be mistaken for any other mushroom, see Calvatia gigantea, the Giant Puffball. Unfortunately it's not every day that you stumble across Giant Puffballs, as they are not only uncommon but also very localised in their distribution. If you find a good spot for these mighty meaty meal sources, make a note of it because Giant Puffballs, like Common Puffballs, usually reappear in the same places for many years.

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

Pegler, D.N., Laessoe, T. & Spooner, B.M (1995). British Puffballs, Earthstars and Stinkhorns. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

British Mycological Society. English Names for Fungi

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

Other web pages about this species

Leif Goodwin (UK)

Roger Phillips (UK)

Acknowledgements

This page includes pictures kindly provided by Doug Holland, David Kelly and David Walker.

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