Mushroom time begins with the puffy Morganella pyriformis

Morganella pyriformis (Schaeffer) Kreisel & D. Kruger

The habitat on wood and the abundant white rhizomorphs make this puffball easy to identify.

Morganella versus Lycoperdon. It’s the mycologist’s version of pepperoni or sausage, Godzilla or Mechagodzilla, Tastes Great or Less Filling. A 2003 publication placed the mushroom among the Morganellas. Yet five years later two scientists used genetic sequencing to argue that it remain in its old genus under the name Lycoperdon pyriforme.

We don’t take sides on this blog. It’s bad for business. But since Mushrooms of the Midwest coauthor Michael Kuo prefers Morganella pyriformis, we’ll stick with that until the scientific community reaches consensus.

Colloquially known as the pear-shaped puffball (pyriforme=Latin for pear-shaped), M. pyriformis is rare among puffball shrooms for growing on wood. Hunters often find more or less destroyed M. pyriformis specimens in spring. These mushrooms, however, appeared the previous year, as the species’ leathery skin allows it to endure the elements, even an entire northern winter, though not in a form you’d want to eat.

Fans of edibles want to score the immature puffballs of late summer and fall, before they turn from white to yellow, to say nothing of the less appetizing colors that follow. One writer described M. pyriformis’s texture as similar to “old marshmellow crème.” Count us in! Alas, controversy apparently follows the puffball into the kitchen, as some people prefer the flavor of large specimens, while others swear by the smaller ones.

As always, beware of eating a white, fluffy M. pyriformis unless you know it is that species. Dark-colored lookalikes in the Scleroderma genus—i.e. the false puffballs—cause gastrointestinal issues, and more than one white mushroom species can kill. Children not interested in tasting food found on old trees can amuse themselves by kicking a puffball and watching its spores fly all over the place.

Photo: Michael Kuo