What You Should Know
Podaxis pistillaris is a very distinctive relative of the puffballs. It grows to 15 cm high and has a hard, woody stem. The large-cap, which protects the blackish spore-bearing tissue, splits, and usually falls away at maturity, allowing the spores to be dispersed by wind. Large numbers may appear after soaking rains. It thrives in deserts and semi-deserts of Australia and other countries, often found on termite mounds in South Africa. In the Hawaiian Islands, it is frequently encountered along roadsides and in disturbed areas on the dry sides of the islands, especially in the Kona area of Hawaii and the Kihei area of Maui.
The species is not poisonous but is not commonly eaten.
Older synonyms for this species include Lycoperdon pistillare L. (1771) and Scleroderma pistillare (L.) Pers. (1801).
Other names: False Shaggy Mane, Desert Shaggy Mane.
Podaxis pistillaris Mushroom Identification
Presumably saprobic; growing alone or scattered in arid, desert settings—including wasteland, fields, and urban locations; fall through spring; fairly common in the deserts of the southwest and California.
4–8 cm high and 2–4 cm across at maturity; oval when young, becoming more or less cylindric, with a rounded apex; shaggy to scaly; dry; white to whitish or pale brownish; the margin tucked under and attached to the stem; the outer layer shredding in old age to expose the mass of spore dust inside.
Composed of vaguely gill-like, contorted plates; at first whitish but soon brownish and eventually turning into dark brown to nearly black powder.
Extending into the cap; 4–10 cm long below the cap; up to 1 cm thick; more or less equal above a base that is usually buried and rooted in the sand; extremely tough and woody; coarsely fibrillose to scaly; whitish to brownish; without a ring.
Odor and Taste
Odor not distinctive.
Not obtainable as a "spore print," but mature specimens shed very dark brown to nearly black spore powder.
Spores 13–19 x 10–13 µm (but often reported as slightly smaller, around 10–15 x 9–12 µm); broadly ellipsoid; with a large pore at one end measuring 2–5 µm across; with a very thick double wall; smooth; brown in KOH. Capillitial threads 3–8 µm wide; occasionally septate; smooth; yellowish-walled in KOH; walls 1 µm thick; sometimes becoming coiled.
Podaxis pistillaris Medicinal Properties
The fungi have been reported to be used in China to treat inflammation (Mao, 2000), but I have not found any scientific evidence that might support this usage.
Antimicrobial activities against Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Proteus mirabilis have been reported (Panwar and Purohit, 2002). Additionally, antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Micrococcus flavus, Bacillus subtilis, Proteus mirabilis, Serratia marcescens and Escherichia coli is attributed to the epicorazines described below (Al-Fatimi et al., 2006).
Podaxis pistillaris Uses
In Australia, it was used by many desert tribes to darken the white hair in old men's whiskers and for body painting. The fungus was presumably used by many desert Aborigines due to its distribution around drier areas of Australia. There are reports of its also being used as a fly repellent. Apart from the more common, ground-inhabiting Podaxis pistillaris, there is one other Podaxis species in Australia – Podaxis beringamensis, found on termite mounds; presumably both species were used.
Like many "puffballs," the species can be used to dye textiles, resulting in either a tan or a reddish hue. It requires an alkaline base, and many home dyers use ammonia. Urine was used in former times.
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