Major Groups > Puffballs > Calvatia craniiformis


Calvatia craniiformis

[ Basidiomycetes > Agaricales > Lycoperdaceae > Calvatia . . . ]

by Ron Meyers

This puffball is distinctive in both its shape and size. It is usually “formed like a skull” as its name implies, and sometimes the resemblance is really striking. It is large enough that one or two specimens will make a good meal, and when it fruits in grasslands it is one of the few mushrooms you can hunt without leaving your automobile.

It is edible when the spore mass is firm and white on the inside, but while it is considered a prize edible I do not find it as good as the similar Calvatia cyathiformis. However, frying in butter will make almost anything delicious, if not particularly healthy. It does absorb flavors rapidly and can be used in a variety of dishes.


Ecology: Saprobic. Perhaps the most frequently collected puffball in Kansas, Calvatia craniiformis is also quite common in southern and eastern North America. Arora (1986) reports that to his knowledge it does not occur on the west coast, but it was reported at the 1986 North American Mycological Association foray in Idaho. It is usually found in dry, scrubby woods and along forest edges in late summer and fall, and occasionally in the spring, but it is not uncommon even in open grassy areas. Smith and Weber (1980) report that in Michigan it is one of the few fleshy fungi found in quantity in locust plantations.

Fruiting Body: 8-20 cm broad; 6-20 cm tall; skull-shaped; white to tan; smooth becoming wrinkled; skin cracking and flaking with age. Calvatia craniiformis owes its distinctive appearance to its stemlike, sterile base and its smooth to wrinkled surface. The skin will eventually slough away, exposing a powdery yellow-brown spore mass. After the spores blow away the cup-shaped sterile base remains, often over winter. The flesh is white and firm when young, becoming yellow-brown and powdery in maturity.

Microscopic Features: Spores 2.5-3.5 µ; round; nearly smooth; with or without a short tail; inamyloid. Capillitial threads 2-7.5 µ wide; thick-walled; pitted.

REFERENCES: (Schweinitz, 1832) Fries, 1849. (Saccardo, 1888; Coker & Couch, 1928; Smith, 1951; Zeller & Smith, 1964; Smith, Smith & Weber, 1981; Weber & Smith, 1980; Lincoff, 1992; Horn, Kay & Abel, 1993; Miller & Miller, 2006.) Herb. Kuo 09240507.

Calvatia craniformis (with one "i") is a synonym.

Calvatia craniiformis is distinguished from Calvatia cyathiformis by the purple-brown spore mass and the preference for open grassy areas of the latter. Calvatia cyathiformis has more of a tendency to be round or slightly flattened, without the prominent stem--as opposed to the inverted pear or skull shape typical of Calvatia craniiformis.

Further Online Information:

Calvatia craniiformis in Smith, 1951


Calvatia craniiformis

Calvatia craniiformis

Calvatia craniiformis

Calvatia craniiformis

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Meyers, R. (2003, October). Calvatia craniiformis. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: