Are Puffball Mushrooms Poisonous? + How To Identify

You’ve probably seen a few puffball mushrooms before, whether you recognized them at the time or not.

Puffball mushrooms are extremely common and have many look-alikes as well.

Are puffball mushrooms poisonous? Most puffballs are not poisonous, and most mature puffballs can be eaten either raw or cooked. There are some fatally poisonous mushrooms that look a lot like puffballs when they are young. Aside from eating unripe or soured puffballs, the deadly look-alikes are the real issue.

Below, we discuss whether or not puffball mushrooms are poisonous and examine some common toxic look-alikes to avoid.

Puffball Mushrooms Facts

The puffball mushroom gets its name due to the “puff” of brown spores (which look like dust) that come out of the mushroom when it is squeezed or stepped on.

They belong to the Basidiomycota division of mushrooms.

Real puffball mushrooms don’t have visible stalks or stems; they are round like a ball for the most part. They don’t have an open cap like many mushrooms do either; rather they produce spores internally.

The distinguishing feature of all puffballs is that they do not have an open cap with spore-bearing gills. Instead, spores are produced internally. 

Puffball mushrooms have been used for everything from making ink to being used as a special ingredient in smoke (smoke was used to anesthetize bees and was later used during surgery as an anesthetic).

How To Identify Edible Puffball Mushrooms

Two common puffball mushrooms growing nestled in the grass.

The first step to identifying edible puffball mushrooms is to make sure the mushroom has no gills, pores, cap, stem, or spine.

It should look like a ball or have a ball-type shape with a stem attached to the ground. Once you open it up, it should be a clean white color.

Are All Puffball Mushrooms Edible?

All puffball mushrooms are not edible, at least not at all stages of growth and development. Only puffball mushrooms that are entirely white on the inside should be eaten.

If there is even a hint of off-color to the white or it is already gray or brown, the mushroom is past being edible and could be toxic.

Can You Eat Puffball Mushrooms Raw?

As long as the inside of the mushroom is white – pure white and only white – you can eat puffballs raw or cooked. If the puffball is large enough, you may even be able to eat it as a stand-alone meal.

What Happens If You Inhale Puffball Spores?

If you inhale puffball spores, more than likely nothing is going to happen. That said, there is a respiratory disease (lycoperdonosis) that is induced by inhaling extreme amounts of mature puffball spores.

The disease is classified as inflammation within the lung of the alveoli, thanks to the dust causing hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Common Types of Puffball Mushrooms

There are several types of common puffball mushrooms. Below, we list the most significant varieties:

  • Bovista – The Bovista puffball mushroom is a genus that belongs to the group of fungi known as “true puffballs.”
  • Calvatia – The Calvatia puffball mushroom is the genus that produces C. gigantea, the puffballs that grow as large as soccer balls.
  • Handkea – The Handkea puffball mushroom is a genus that belongs to the Agaricaceae family. It has curvy slits on its body rather than typical pores.
  • Lycoperdon – The Lycoperdon puffball mushroom is one of the most widespread. They are pear-shaped puffballs with approximately 50 species worldwide.
  • Scleroderma – The Scleroderma is a fungi genus that is found all over the world and is commonly known as “earth balls.” They belong to the Boletales Sclerodermatineae order of puffballs.

How To Cook Puffball Mushrooms

Puffballs aren’t hard to cook; simply fry them in a skillet with a bit of butter.

First, you must wash and then slice the puffball mushrooms. Next, start cooking them by melting some butter in a skillet, preferably over medium heat. 

One by one lay the sliced puffball mushroom pieces into the skillet. Let them cook until they are brown.

The overall cooking time should be less than 5 minutes unless the heat is too high or the mushrooms are huge.

You should be absolutely positive of a mushroom’s identity before consuming. Be familiar with toxic varieties found in your area, and check out these 24 Toxic Mushrooms To Avoid to educate yourself.

Poisonous Mushrooms That Look Like Puffballs

If you choose to pick your own puffball mushrooms, be wary. There are numerous poisonous mushrooms that look like puffballs that you really don’t want any part of.

The worst part is that they are extremely easy to mistake for the real thing. 

Below, we discuss several of the most crucial poisonous mushrooms that look like puffballs that you should know about:

Amanita

A fly agaric mushroom with a bright red cap with white spots growing on a mossy hill.

The Amanita genus of mushrooms includes hundreds of mushrooms. Most of the amanitas in the world are poisonous, toxic, or even psychedelic (at the chance of death).

That said, many amanitas are white and just so happen to resemble puffballs (especially when they are young). 

Amanitas are fatal and should never be eaten. They can be identified by their veil and their stalk, both of which puffball mushrooms do not have.

Sclerodomera

One intact common earthball mushroom sitting beside one that has been cut in half.

The Sclerodomera mushroom is another poisonous mushroom that is commonly mistaken for puffball mushrooms.

Again, it is especially when they are young mushrooms that they appear so similar to true puffball mushrooms.

The one difference is that inside of a young Sclerodomera, the white flesh is hard, not soft and spongy like in a puffball. Scleroderma has been responsible for several deaths.

Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera)

Amanita virosa, or the destroying angel mushroom, growing beside a large bone in the woods.

The destroying angel, scientifically known as the Amanita bisporigera, is a type of Amanita that can be found in Europe and North America.

It is responsible for approximately 90% of poisonous mushroom fatalities in those areas. When it is young, it looks very much like a puffball and is even white inside.

This mushroom will kill you if you eat it.

Death Cap (Amanita phalloides)

A grouping of deadly death cap mushrooms growing in the woods.

The death cap, scientifically known as the Amantia phalloides and also sometimes called death cup, is another deadly Amanita species that is easily mistaken for small puffballs when they are young mushrooms.

They are also white inside, like healthy puffballs.

Related Questions:

Are Puffball Mushrooms Poisonous to Dogs?

Puffball mushrooms, and the look-alikes, are just as harmful to dogs as they are to humans. In fact, they are more dangerous to dogs because dog noses are so much more powerful (and sensitive).

That means they are more likely to develop lycoperdonosis than you are.

How Do I Get Rid of Puffballs in My Yard?

The best way to get rid of puffball mushrooms from your yard is to put on your pants, grab your shovel, roll up your sleeves, and go dig them up.

After you’ve removed them, fertilize the area or plant it with fresh sod so the new turf discourages further fungi development.

You may also want to remove roots and other organic debris from your yard that may promote mushroom growth as well.

Final Thoughts

Puffball mushrooms are safe to eat only if you know how to identify them or get them from a reliable and experienced source.

They can be toxic if they aren’t ripe or are past ripe, not to mention the poisonous look-alikes!