The Rise and Fall of the Giant Earth Ball

by Sue Ann Kendall

Sometimes it’s fun to observe a natural object over time. I tried this with a mushroom I found on my property, the Hermits’ Rest Ranch in northern Milam County. On March 29, I saw what appeared to be an egg in the field in front of our house. When I looked more closely, I realized it was a large mushroom. Of course, I photographed it. My whole family laughs at how I photograph everything.

The first day I saw it.

I dutifully went to iNaturalist and recorded my observation. I thought it might be a puffball, but it appeared to be a Common Earthball, Scleroderma citrinum. Sadly, no one has confirmed it.

Wikipedia tells us that it’s the most common of its ilk in both the US and the UK. I’d never seen one before, however. It sure was large. Here are some facts about the earthball:

Earthballs are superficially similar to, and considered look-alikes of, the edible puffball (particularly Apioperdon pyriforme), but whereas the puffball has a single opening on top through which the spores are dispersed, the earthball just breaks up to release the spores. Moreover, Scleroderma citrinum has much firmer flesh and a dark gleba (interior) much earlier in development than puffballs. Scleroderma citrinum has no stem but is attached to the soil by mycelial cords. The peridium, or outer wall, is thick and firm, usually ochre yellow externally with irregular warts.

Scleroderma citrinum can be mistaken with truffles by inexperienced mushroom hunters. Ingestion of Scleroderma citrinum can cause gastrointestinal distress in humans and animals, and some individuals may experience lacrimationrhinitis and rhinorrhea, and conjunctivitis from exposure to its spores.

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scleroderma_citrinum

The next day, when I came back, the earthball had grown a lot. I used my ear bud as a comparison (I didn’t have a coin, which is traditional).

Next time, it had grown even more. Luckily I’d just been gathering eggs, so I got some nice shots. That’s the biggest mushroom I ever saw.

After that, I got curious about its lifecycle, so I decided to photograph it every day. Since it’s poisonous, I didn’t lick it. And, before you ask, the dogs are on the other side of a fence from it.

I was afraid I’d miss yesterday, since I was scheduled to go to a conference yesterday and today. “Luckily” the conference was canceled. Unluckily, I didn’t find out until I had already spent a night in Kerrville. (The TXPWD were kind and repaid my hotel bill, since it was their error that some attendees weren’t notified.) Anyway, I got home to find it had finally burst open.

This was in the late afternoon, so not great light, but look at all that spore material in there!

There sure were a LOT of spores in there. Since yesterday was so windy that there was a Red Flag warning in the county, I figure there may be future earthballs all over the place!

Sad earthball. You’ve been fun to watch!

This morning, my buddy looks pretty sad. But I’m impressed the mushroom hung around for over 11 days! I’ve learned something about the Common Earthball, and so have you!

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