What do you see when you look at this picture? My first thought was that it was some sort of beehive or wasp or hornet's nest that had fallen from a tree. I also thought it could be a cool-looking rock. It is not either of those things, though. It is, in fact, a big ol' mushroom - a puffball mushroom to be precise, and it is very possible that if you're out enjoying some quality time with Mother Nature that you might encounter one just like it. The question is - what do you do if you see one?

What Are Puffball Mushrooms?

There are more than 10,000 different types of mushrooms, many of which might be hard to identify, but that's not the case with Puffballs. The name really says it all here, Puffballs are large (usually), round mushrooms that look like puffy balls.

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Puffball mushroom

Are Puffballs Dangerous?

The simple answer is NO, they are not dangerous - but, some Puffballs are 'better' than others. Young, or "immature" Puffballs (like the picture above) are not only safe, but they are also edible, and apparently quite yummy. Immature Puffballs will be pure white on the inside, with a soft bread-like interior that will not have any gills - those are the ones to pick and eat. In fact, Giant Puffballs have been referred to as the "queen of edible mushrooms." However, if the Puffball has any discoloring - any brown, grey, or black - that means it is past its prime and should not be eaten.

Old Puffball mushroom
Jill Baker/Indiana Nature Lovers on Facebook

What's Wrong With Old Puffballs?

The picture above is an example of an old Puffball - you'll notice it is no longer white and not very smooth-looking either.  Old Puffballs like this should not be eaten or even handled at all. Eating one won't kill you, but it will most likely cause some digestive problems. Touching one won't kill you either, but old Puffballs are full of spores, and inhaling those could cause a flare-up of seasonal allergies.

Adam Venatieri
Getty Images

Should I Step On or Kick an Old Puffball?

We've all been there - you see an old round mushroom sticking out of the ground and your first instinct is to go all Adam Vinatieri on it (i.e. you wanna kick it). The question is "should" you kick it? There are two schools of thought when it comes to this question. If you do have allergies or are sensitive to various airborne particles (like pollen) you may want to avoid launching a bunch of Puffball spores into the air. On the other hand, when you kick a Puffball, thereby releasing all of those spores, you increase the odds of more baby Puffballs growing in that area, which is not a bad thing at all, especially if you like eating mushrooms. So, I guess the only person that can really answer this question is you.

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