October 23, 2002
Neither plant nor animal, fungi quietly do their work at the base of the ecosytem, along with bacteria, to break down complex organic compounds into simpler building blocks. The autumn woods are home to this curiously spherical example of fungal recycling - the giant puff ball (Calvatia gigantea). Fungi have no chlorphyll, as this pale specimen can attest, and draw their nutrients from other organic matter. The puffball at this stage with firm white flesh is still immature, and quite a delicacy sliced and fried in butter and onions. As the mushroom matures, its flesh becomes brown olive green, and dries to a spongy powdery consistency - a massive fruiting body waiting to be kicked to produce a "puff" of billions of single-celled spores to carry on as next year's crop.