Lycoperdon lividum Pers. - Grassland Puffball

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

Lycoperdon lividum

Lycoperdon lividum , the Grass;land 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 lividum is fairly common throughout Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe; it is found most often in grassland near to the coast.

Lycoperdon lividum

On the left are Grassland Puffballs with fully mature spores. The peridium has lost most of its outer layer of tiny spines, and a small apical hole allows wind and rain to disperse spores. At this stage Grassland Puffballs often detach from the substrate and can be blown around by the wind, especially in exposed coastal areas.

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 are quite good to eat as long as they are gathered while young and still pure white throughout.

Once the spore mass turns olive or brown, edible puffballs are not good to eat - and at this stage they could more easily be confused with earthballs, which are inedible or even poisonous.

Taxonomic history

Lycoperdon lividum was described and in 1809 by Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, who gave it the scientific name that it has retained to this day. Among its synonyms are Lycoperdon cervinum Bolton, Lycoperdon spadiceum Pers., andLycoperdon cookei Massee.

Etymology

The specific epithet lividum means leaden (coloured like lead - grey or blue-grey).

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 Grassland Puffball, Lycoperdon lividum .

Identification guide

Closeup image of surface of Lycoperdon lividum

Fruitbody

Typically 1 to 2.5cm across; more or less spherical or slightly squashed vertically but with short sterile stem consisting of of white spongy rice-like cells that are white at first but turn yellow-olive and finally brown.

Greyish to ochre-brown outer peridium is slightly scurfy (see left), while the inner peridial wall is thin with a finely granular surface.

White at first, the spore-bearing gleba turns olive-brown and at maturity escapes via a small irregular apical pore.

Spores of Lycoperdon lividum

Spores

Roughly spherical, 3.5-4.1µm diameter; ornamented with small warts.

Show larger image

Spore mass

Darkish olive-brown.

Odour/taste

Not distinctive.

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic, commonly found in alkaline, neutral or only slightly acidic short-sward grassland, mainly near to the coast.

Season

July to November in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

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

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

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

Culinary notes

Although many puffball species are considered good edible fungi the Grassland Puffball is regarded as of limited value becuse of its small size. Once the spores begin maturing the interior of the puffball darkens. Only when very young and white throughout are any of the puffballs edible.

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

NatureSpot (UK)

Roger Phillips (UK) - under the synonym Lycoperdon spadiceum

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