Star Puffball (Calvatia sculpta)
We follow the Mosquito Loop road around the meadow that’s on our way to Patterson Guard Station. The well-worn dirt track leads through mixed forest, mostly lodgepole pine, a few ponderosa, and aspen. Just past the small cluster of aspen that’s on the uphill side, I spot something white in the road ahead. Don stops the truck, and we jump out to investigate. Centered between the tire tracks is a white globe about 6 inches across that grows out of a mass of loose debris. The curious surface is covered with small white pyramids and polygons in an orderly arrangement. My inner artist is immediately captured by such an unusual form. I must come back later and take another look.
We drive on carefully, so as not to run over the globe. Our drinking water cans are nearly empty, and we need to fill them at Patterson campground. Here in the Warner Mountains of Northern California we are camped by a small seep spring with a steady supply of water, but since cattle graze the area the water is not potable. We use the spring water for washing up, but not for cooking or drinking.
After we return from our errand, I hike across the meadow with my art pack and stool. Don already checked the Mushroom Field Guide but did not find our specimen in the book. It is only later when we return home that we locate the name: Star Puffball, Calvatia sculpta. However, at this point in our camping trip, our best guess is the curious form is a fungi and must be a puffball of some kind. We sometimes find puffballs in the woods, but they are usually round and smooth, not at all like this geometric marvel.
When I reach the puffball, I examine it carefully. Puffballs grow on the ground or on dead wood because they live off organic matter. This one makes me laugh. It is growing out of an old cow pie which is dried up, disintegrating manure. I settle my stool in the middle of the road and proceed with my sketch . . . Read more in my next Saturday blog as I begin to draw this amazing structure.