Fungus of the day #17 (imitation week)

Dye-maker’s false puffball. It’s also crudely called the dog turd fungus, horse dung fungus, dead man’s fist, or dead man’s foot but let’s not think about that part.

Pisolithus tinctorius



Widely distributed in North America and appearing in several parts of Europe, South Africa, Asia, and Australia. In America, it grows between July and October in its preferred habitat. It’s found in the American states of Wisconsin, Mississippi, Florida, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Illinois, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and that’s only naming a fraction of the states that house this fungus. Extremely dense populations of this mushroom exist to the west, notably in California. The spread goes as far south as scattered specimens present in Mexico and Guatemala, but stops before South America, having no recorded specimens of the entire South American continent. Going east to Africa, dense populations exist in southern South Africa, with some appearing as far north as close to the border of South Africa and Mozambique (‘ere). Other than South Africa, a single specimen has been located in Africa, in the small country of Burkina Faso, meaning that populations of this mushroom are rare in Africa. South to Europe, rare specimens can be found near the coasts of Italy, or in some cases on the islands around Italy. Some mushrooms have been reported near London, in England and down to Portugal, near the coast. Going even further east, the population dwindles more as recorded specimens exist only in Russia, Mongolia, China, Australia, and Pakistan.

The mushroom is partial to growing in areas that are sandy, much like yesterday’s false morel. Also similar to yesterday’s morel, the puffball occurs frequently where there is a disturbance and exists either in the open or in shade. Some examples of the areas it grows in include open woods, old pastures, lawns, and areas densely packed with pine trees, even including some schools near the coast if they feature pine trees around the property. They grow either on their lonesome or in clusters with other false puffballs. The first recordings of this puffball come from the aforementioned coastal states, as well as Indiana and Kentucky. The mushroom is known to have spores plant in the ground but overwinter until a time when the climate increases and becomes warmer.

The mushroom is, as the crude names imply, reminiscent of dung or cadavers, as far as color is concerned, It’s large and powdery-brown with a broad top. The fungus is club or pear-shaped. It does not bear a cap. The mushroom is 2-4” (5-10 cm) wide and 2-8” (5-20 cm) high. The mushroom is thick and bulbous near the direct top of the fungus, decreasing in size going further down the mushroom. It’s shiny at the start of the stalk, becoming more powdery as your eyes adventure vertically up the mushroom. The reason the top half is so large in comparison to the stalk is that the huge ball is known as the spore mass, where spores are stored. In a way, the spore mass is the puffball mushroom’s fruiting body. It’s whitish to brown occasionally showing off an odd skin formation that gives the spore mass a look that resembles scales of a reptile. The microscopic spores are round and spiky, leaving a cinnamon brown color on a piece of paper when a spore print examination is conducted

As the name implies, the mushroom can be used to produce a fungus-based dye. The dyes manufactured from the mushroom are often produced in Europe and can be made into brilliant colors spanning far across the spectrum of colors from golden-brown to black.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (book) (website) (website) (website)

The fungus, photographed in a way emphasizing its scale-like structures