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Check out this 'beach ball-sized' puffball mushroom found in Iowa

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 20/10/2017 Aaron Young

Nikki Dunbar, assistant naturalist with Polk County Conservation, holds the giant puffball mushroom that was found in Jester Park on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. © Special to the Register Nikki Dunbar, assistant naturalist with Polk County Conservation, holds the giant puffball mushroom that was found in Jester Park on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. DES MOINES — Whoa. This thing is huge.

It's a giant puffball mushroom. Heidi Anderson, a naturalist with Polk County Conservation in Granger, said the "beach ball-sized" mushroom was found by a visitor Wednesday in Jester Park.

"Most of the ones I've seen are like soccer ball-size," Anderson said. "This one easily surpasses that."

Anderson said the mushroom was measured at 18 inches across and 10 inches deep. That's on the upper end of the average size of puffball mushrooms, which typically range between 8 to 20 inches, according to Polk County Conservation.

Puffball mushrooms are round in appearance and are typically white to olive brown colored. As puffballs age, though, their centers turn yellowish-brown, eventually drying and producing spores. 

And not just a few spores: A single giant puffball can have up to as many as 7 trillion spores.

But still, why the "puffball" name?

"When you squeeze them, all the spores will kind of explode from the puffball itself," Anderson said.

Anderson said giant puffballs are commonly found in Iowa's woodlands this time of the year.

"The moisture that we've had has been helpful for a lot of fungus to pop up in places you wouldn't normally expect this time of year," she added.

And yes, you certainly can eat puffball mushrooms. Puffballs can be sauteed, broiled, or breaded and fried.

Just be mindful and consume in moderation.

"We like to caution anyone who is eating any kind of fungus that you're absolutely positive you've identified the fungus correctly," she said. "The key to identification for the giant puffball is a smooth surface. When you cut it in half, it should be completely white all the way through the mushroom.

"Once it starts to yellow in the center, it shouldn't be eaten."

It is legal to collect mushrooms from Polk County parks for your own use. However, you cannot sell what you collect on public land.

Follow Aaron Young on Twitter: @AaYoung15

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