Spore Prints 76Mushroom Spore prints

Mushroom Spore-prints

Spore Prints 78

Our common dusty Puff-ball, floating its faint trail of smoke in the breeze from the ragged flue at its dome-shaped roof as from an elfin tepee, or perhaps enveloping our feet in its dense purple cloud as we chance to step upon it in the path, is familiar to every one. To the mycophagist connoisseur, on the alert for every delectable fungus morsel for his fastidious appetite, the Puff-ball is indeed pleasantly familiar, though a specimen in such a powdery stage as the above is apt to bring only regrets that its discovery has been thus delayed, for in its earlier firm white stage he knows it at his table as a most delicate entree of "mock omelet."

The old-time country physician gathered its powdery bag and carefully preserved it for another purpose, its spongy, dusty contents having been a time-honored remedy as a styptic, or for the arrest of hemorrhage from wounds. But by no class of the community perhaps is it so enthusiastically welcomed as by the small boy, to whom it is always a challenge for a kick and a consequent demonstration of smoke worthy of a Fourth-of-July celebration.

Puff-Ball Spore-Clouds

A week ago this glistening gray bag, so free with its dust-puff at the slightest touch, was solid in substance and as white as cottage cheese in the fracture. In this condition, sliced and fried, it would have proven a veritable delicacy upon our table, quite suggesting an omelet in consistency and flavor, and in size also, if perchance we had been favored with one of the larger specimens, which frequently approaches the dimensions of a football.

But in a later stage this clear white fracture would have appeared speckled or peppered with gray spots (see page 271), and the next day entirely gray and much softened, and, later again, brown and apparently in a state of decay. But this is not decay. This moist brown mass by evaporation becomes powdery, and the Puff-ball is now ripe, and preparing for posterity.

Each successive squeeze, as we hold it between our fingers, yields its generous response in a puff of brown smoke, which melts away apparently into air. But the Puff-ball does not thus end in mere smoke. This vanishing purple cloud is composed of tiny atoms, so extremely minute as to require the aid of a powerful microscope to reveal their shapes. Each one of these atoms, so immaterial and buoyant as to be almost without gravity, floating away upon the slightest breath, or even wafted upward by currents of warm air from the heated earth, has within itself the power of reproducing another clump of Puff-balls, if only fortune shall finally lodge it in congenial soil. These spores are thus analogous to the seeds of ordinary plants. The number of these vital atoms or spores in a single Puff-ball is almost past computation. Fries, however, an eminent fungologist, went to some pains to estimate this number, and, referring to a certain puff-ball, says: "The spores are infinite. In a single individual of Reticularia maxima I have reckoned ten millions so subtle as to resemble thin smoke as light as if raised by evaporation, and dispersed in so many ways - by the sun's attraction, by insects, by adhesion and elasticity - that it is difficult to conceive the spots from which they could be excluded."