Autumn is a wonderful time of year to go for a woodland stroll. It's amazing seeing how the familiar sights of summer have begun to fade, wither away and transition into the autumnal colours of gold and bronze. The smell of decay is fresh in the air, but with this rot comes the magical display of fungal delights, some perfectly edible, and some not so, but this doesn't make them any less special to find.
Take, for example, that of the common earth ball (Scleroderma citrinum). These look much like the common and edible puffballs, but earth balls, although similar in appearance, are inedible, although not fearsomely toxic like some species of mushroom, but they should be avoided as they are poisonous nonetheless. In fact, some unscrupulous restaurants will remove thin slices of the dark inner portion of this fungus, soak them in truffle oil and serve them as such! This is a dangerous practise as they are poisonous, even more so to select individuals.
The common earthball or pigskin poison puffball as it's sometimes known is a frequent sight in woodlands, grasslands and heathland, although I must admit, I rarely encounter them in any environment other than woodland, especially ancient woodlands with a good proportion of native broadleaf species. As the name suggests, the common earthball is the most common of all earthball in the UK.
In appearance the common earthball is usually an off-white or deep yellow colour, with a scaly surface. Although the size and shape may vary, they are usually 3-6cm and egg shaped. Unlike puffballs, the earthball feels solid, and if the thick skin is split open, it will
reveal a blackish, sometimes slightly purple-brown mass where the spores are produced from.