Puffballs, mushrooms, toadstools and stinkhorns are all different fruiting bodies of fungi and primarily responsible for fungal reproduction via the distribution of fungal spores. Fungi feed on decaying organic matter so they often pop up anywhere such matter is present--whether their presence is desired or not. Luckily, nuisance fungi like puffballs can be quickly and easily controlled.
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In the words of John E. Watkins, extension plant pathologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "Some mushrooms and most puffballs are edible; some are foul-smelling, many are considered unsightly, and a few are poisonous. But when they appear on a lawn, most are considered a nuisance." Puffballs are large, spherical, usually white or off-white objects that grow in groups. When the puffballs reach maturity, they rupture and release spores from inside. When the released spores travel by wind and land on an area that favours fungal growth, the puffball reproduction cycle is complete.
Reasons for Removal
Some fungal fruiting bodies can transmit fungal diseases to plants growing near them. Puffballs rarely carry these fungi and rarely cause direct damage to grass or plants on their own. The main reason for removing them is that a few species of puffball fungi can be toxic to humans and animals, so any fruiting bodies in the yard represent a potential health hazard to you, your pets and your family.
Approaches to Control
Simply removing the fruiting bodies themselves will not remove the mycelium growing underneath the soil that generated the puffballs, so new puffballs will nearly always grow in place of the old ones. You can continually rake up or mow puffballs, and the fungus may eventually be removed altogether, but a more effective removal method is to identify and remove the decaying organic matter on which the fungus is growing. Remove any rotting stumps, roots or woodpiles in the yard on which the puffballs could be growing.
Never eat a puffball or any other type of fungal fruiting body you find in your yard. Some puffballs are edible, but it is never worth the risk to try eating them until you have had the fungal species identified by a professional and you know beyond a doubt that toxicity is not a possibility. If you have children or pets that frequently play in a yard where puffballs are growing, forbid them from playing in the area until the fungus has been eliminated.
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