Photo used under Creative Commons from radkuch.13
The Calvatia Gigantea, or better known, "Giant Puffball Mushroom," is a fungus that grows in woods and on the edges of meadows throughout Ohio (Kuo, n.d.). The average size of these mushrooms is about the size of a soccer ball. However, they can grow to be even bigger, with the largest reported size being 5 feet and 50 lbs. (Kuo, n.d.)! It grows from late summer into early fall, widely distributed but generally growing alone. Photographed is a very young specimen, evident by the very fine scales which will smooth out as the mushroom matures
The Puffball Mushroom is an example of a saprotrophic mushroom, meaning that it gets nourishment from decaying organic matter (“Giant Puffball”). Essentially, it decomposes organic matter such as grass, leaves, etc. and converts it into nutrients. Though less common, it can be seen growing in "fairy circles" which results in a large amount of produce (since each full-sized mushroom is a couple lbs. alone) but is more often found alone on the borders of meadows and forest floors (“Giant Puffball” n.d.). The mushroom starts its life small, typically free of anything on the cap of the mushroom, appearing bald though they may occasionally grow scales (refer to the first photo). The mid-stage of its life looks like the attached photo: bulbous and bald with a few "craters" in the cap of the mushroom. Lastly, in its final stages before decomposing, the bulb will take on an olive-yellow or brown tone that, when stepped on, will release brown spore dust.
This mushroom is one of the easiest to identify based on its large size and bulb-like shape. Its growth place is specific to where the mushroom can access decaying material to decompose and return the nutrients to the soil where it is distributed through the underground network of mycelium (“Giant Puffball” n.d.). Mushrooms form a mutually beneficial relationship with the other plants in an ecosystem and the Giant Puffball Mushroom is no exception. When it comes time for the mushroom's life cycle to end, they change from the striking white bulbous puffball to a brown and occasionally deflated structure (Calvatia Gigantea, 2019). Pictured are matured Puffball Mushrooms that have been stepped on, thus forcing the spores to be expelled. Note the dark-colored fog that is recognized as the spores of a Calvatia Gigantea
The Giant Puffball serves an important role in the eco-system of the forest, much like many of its fellow fungi. The underground network that connects many plants within a system, the mycelium, plays an important role in the mutually beneficial relationship that exists amongst the plants in a forest. This system allows a sapling growing in a shady place to be given nutrients and sugar from other trees in the network (Holewinski, 2019). Additionally, "help" signals can be sent through this network that allows the plants within the ecosystem to direct resources where necessary (Holewinski, 2019). Ultimately fungi, including the Giant Puffball Mushroom, play an important role as the facilitators of an eco-systems network. To better show the underground network, refer to the second photo that display the inner workings of the eco-system. Here, you can clearly see how roots and the mycelium of the mushroom form a web that ties the eco-system together.
Calvatia gigantea. (2019, July 03). Retrieved from https://midwestmycology.org/calvatia-gigantea/
Giant Puffball. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/giant-puffball#:~:text=Makesurethey are cooked, those nutrients to the soil.
Holewinski, B. (2019, May 28). Underground Networking: The Amazing Connections Beneath Your Feet. Retrieved from https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/underground-mycorrhizal-network#:~:text=Mushrooms are the fruit of,Source.&text=This diagram shows the connections,the network are paler green.
Kuo, M. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mushroomexpert.com/calvatia_gigantea.html