One can be forgiven for thinking the US Masters Golf tournament had suddenly changed continents. It only takes a little bit of rain to ‘kick-start’ the annual fungi cycle. And after the rains last week one of the first fungi to pop out of the ground around Flowerdale is the Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) (see picture below). Perlatum is Latin for widespread, and widespread they are. It looks like someone has been enjoying golf practice out in the bush.
The puffball, which is covered in tiny spikes and warts, is the fruit of a much larger fungus that lives below the soil. The ball is analogous to an apple on an apple tree. The fungus could cover an area of tens if not hundreds of square metres as a network of underground mycelia or filaments, from which the fruit—the puffballs—emerge at the surface.
When young, the puffball is white inside but turns brown as millions of spores (analogous to seeds) develop. As the fruit matures the external surface also turns brown and a hole develops in it. The puffball pictured on the right shows the hole beginning to form at the top. The mature puffball on the left shows the developed hole. It is through this hole the spores are released. The slightest pressure on the surface of the puffball is enough to eject the spores. A single rain drop or water droplet from a tree hitting the puffball can cause millions of spores to be ejected in a single burst.
Just imagine how many spores you could release if you hit the puffball with a golf driver!