by Nelson Holmes
HUERFANO- Anyone who gets to know me soon realizes that I am a repository of strange passions, and one of those is fungi. I love mushrooms, slime molds, earth tongues and truffles; anything that fosters decomposition in the dark, moist corners of the world is, to my mind, mysterious and fascinating. Luckily, I have friends bold enough to gather odd discoveries and bring them to me for identification. So it was one work-day afternoon when my friend, Elaine, called up to the office window suggesting I come down and carry in her fungal finds. So, with the glee of a kid at Christmas I dashed down and found she had collected one of the largest Western Puffballs I’d ever seen! This thing was like the cranium of an albino hydrocephalic; larger than a basketball, and hefty too.
The Calvatia booniana is a remarkable creature that appreciates our semi-arid climate and often sprouts in “flocks” in prairie habitat that one would not consider “mushroom-friendly.” Now, no species of Puffballs are known to be poisonous and, at worst, some might prove to be a little bitter. The only worry a Puff-eater must consider is restroom proximity; it seems p-balls have a laxative effect on most folks so scratch them off your list of road-trip snacks. The Puffy is also remarkable for its procreative powers; an average specimen can contain seven trillion spores measuring 1/200th of a millimeter, enough spores to circle the equator in single file! Now, if each spore produced one average puffball you would have a fungal mass weighing 800 times as much as the Earth, bwahaha! Here’s another scary thought to ponder; the Puffball is only the, ahem, “reproductive structure” of the fungus and the mycelium, or vegetative body, exists in thread-like fibers that run in a riotous web through the soil beneath your feet. So, the little mushroom in the middle of your lawn might well have a fruiting body that runs for many yards in every direction, cool huh? The Western Puffball is delicious if harvested young, before the inner flesh starts to yellow and the maggots have their turn. When fully mature the dry puffball is a joy to kick, for to do so will create a thick, “mushroom cloud” of spores! Sustenance and entertainment, what more can you ask for?
If, in reading this, you feel your inner mycophile screaming for release, please do me a favor- start your adventures with a little study. Learn a few edibles by heart and study the deadly shrooms with a passion. There are likely few ways to die more miserable than some types of mushroom poisoning. If you seek a mentor or guide, keep natural selection in mind and look for older folk.
By the way, the Puffball was delicious sautéed in some olive oil and garlic. Unfortunately, flies and decomposition got more than their share of the spoils… then again, ounce for ounce, maggots have more protein than beef, so…