Friday, November 24, 2006
Stalked Puffball in Aspic
Despite its title, this article has not strayed from the culinary corner. If Stalked Puffballs in Aspic somehow turned up on your Thanksgiving table, they would have numbered among the leftovers — I hope. They are mushrooms of unknown edibility and therefore considered inedible. Their binomial name is Calostoma cinnabarina where calo- means beautiful, stoma means mouth, and cinnabarina means cinnabar-colored, which all makes sense since these are red puffballs with beautiful mouths — even lips. Some people call them "hotlips."
When and where found. These puffballs appear in late summer and persist into the fall and even survive through the winter. They seemed to be particularly plentiful this year and also as large as I have ever seen them. Last week I found a very handsome pair on November 15 in the Towle Woods and two large groups of them on November 17 along the Rockstrom Trail off School Street. Other years I have seen them at the Cranberry Bog and in the Conant Land. They grow on the ground and right now you will just see their heads poking up through the leaf litter.
Identification. This is an easy mushroom to identify. It is our only stalked puffball that is red. When young, it is a jelly-coated ball about an inch or less in diameter, like the left hand image in the photo, above left. The stalk is not very obvious at this time. As it matures, the gelatinous layer breaks up and curls into little red shiny pieces that fall off to expose a bright orange-red powdery coating on the spherical spore sac. Four or five little ridges build up on the top of the spore sac around the place that eventually ruptures to release the ripe spores — as shown in the right hand image in the photo. These ridges are bright red and look like puckered lips — hence the "hotlips" nickname. The creamy-colored spores emerge through the lips. At this time of year most of the red has washed off the spore sac, leaving it pale yellow. The lips are still red and the stalk is extended to push the puffball up as far as possible to aid in spore dispersal. The stalk is thick, gelatinous, and stringy.
The photo directly above shows the two specimens from Towle pushed on their stalks above the pine needles and with broken pieces of the gelatinous coat, like pomegranate seeds, still sticking around the stalk. There is a blob of pale sodden spores sitting on top of the lips. In dry weather, the spores would disperse as a fine powder.
References: David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified; Gary Lincoff, Audubon Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America.
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