Lycoperdon, a genus of fungi, which in the accepted arrangement is placed in the gastero-mycetes, one of the six divisions into which this immense order is separated, and of which the common puff-ball may be taken as a representative. As with other fungi, the true vegetative portion, the mycelium, consists of floccose threads, which in the case of the puff-balls spread in the soil; the portion which appears above ground is that concerned in reproduction; in these plants this is more or less globular, and when young is fleshy; theperidi-um or covering to the mass is of two coats, the outer of which breaks up into warts and scales; as the puff-ball perfects itself, the interior loses its fleshy character and becomes a dry mass of threads and exceedingly minute spores, which escape upon the slightest disturbance as a cloud of dust from an opening in the coating; the name puff-ball applied to these plants arises from the form of the pe-ridium and the manner of emitting their spores. About a dozen species are recorded in Schweinitz's synopsis, most of which are also common to Europe. The rapidity with which puff-balls increase in size is remarkable; a giant puff-ball (L. giganteum) that was less than an inch in diameter at evening, has been known to enlarge to the diameter of a foot by morning.
Several species are to be met with in fields, and frequently by the side of little- travelled roads. "Within a few years much attention has been given in England to fungi as a source of food, and at the various horticultural exhibitions premiums have been awarded for displays of both edible and poisonous species. The "Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club" has been especially efficient in making known the value of kinds not before considered edible, and in the reports of their annual dinners the giant puff-ball occupies a conspicuous place. It is of course only edible while it retains its solid and fleshy character. The late Rev. M. A. Curtis of Society Hill, S. C, paid much attention to the fungi as a source of food, and at his death left an unpublished monograph upon the subject. He wrote as follows to a correspondent in England: " The lycoperdon giganteum is also a great favorite with me, as it is indeed with all my acquaintances who have tried it. It has not the high aroma of some others, but it has a delicacy of flavor that makes it superior to any omelette I have ever eaten. It seems furthermore to be so digestible as to adapt it to the most delicate stomachs.
This is the South Down of mushrooms." It is prepared by cutting in slices, dipping these in egg and then in crumbs, and frying, in the same manner that the fruit of the egg plant is cooked. After puff-balls become dark-colored and dry inside they are no longer fit to be eaten, and when mature enough to emit their spores they should be handled with caution; serious consequences have followed the accidental inhalation of the dust-like spores. The fumes of the dry puff-ball when burned have long been known to possess anaesthetic properties; they are said by Berkeley to have been used in surgical operations, and their use in stupefying bees is of quite ancient date. The contents of the ball were formerly used as a styptic or siccative in surgery.
Giant Puff-ball (Lycoperdon giganteum).