Of Long Past Posts ~ Wolf Farts Revisited

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Sunshine yesterday after days of rain and general dankness, so we took ourselves off for a short walk up Windmill Hill. It was ages since we were last there – probably July when the pyramidal orchids were still in full bloom and there were drifts of yellow ladies bedstraw amongst the meadow grasses. Now the hill’s plateau top where the Windmill stands has been mown. It is practically a grassy sward up there.

And the reason for the mowing is that the kind Windmill Trust people, who are caring for the place, are trying to ensure the wellbeing of the old limestone meadow. In the recent past it was grazed over the autumn and winter months by ponies, but having field stock is anyway problematical when it’s such a popular spot for local dog walkers. So mowing it was, and I gather they managed to sell the grass for cattle feed, which all helps to support the Trust’s work.

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Anyway, it was as I wandering around on the grassy top that I remembered the wolf farts. They featured in one of my early posts on matters Wenlockian and I hadn’t bothered to look for them since. And the reason I’d looked for them back then was because they cropped up in Guardian newspaper piece by journalist and nature writer of repute, Paul Evans, who happened to live in Much Wenlock.

So: what are wolf farts but the common puffball, Lycoperdon (from the Greek lycos wolf and perdomai to break wind) perlatum  (gem-studded). Another name is devil’s snuffbox. My first introduction to them was in winter when they had dried to empty husks, their spores dispersed. The ones in the photos are at most 2.5 cm (a good inch) across.

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I later read that squeezing them at the ripe stage was to be avoided. The spores are fine as dust and breathing them in can lead to lycoperdonosis, a life-threatening respiratory condition caused when the spores lodge in the lungs. A very nasty prospect.

But there were no such dangers of evil inhalants from the ones I spotted yesterday (header photo). They were freshly formed. And this reminded me of the recent  marvellous foraging essay from Margaret at From Pyrenees to Pennines in which she describes finding “a magnificent puffball weighing in at more than a kilo, which – thickly sliced and dredged first in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs and grated parmesan and fried in butter – made splendidly tasty steaks.” As a fellow forager I was mightily excited by this piece of deliciousness. Somehow, though, I don’t think our tiny Windmill Hill wolf farts will quite come up to snuff on the tasty steak front.

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More about the common puffball HERE

Of Wolf Farts, Windmills and the Wenlock Olympics  original post

 Past Squares #7

31 thoughts on “Of Long Past Posts ~ Wolf Farts Revisited

  1. Oh my goodness! Who’d have thought that these cuties could be lethal at a later stage?!!! I’m off to your earlier post to see if I can find out what they’ve done to deserve such a colourful name of Wolf’s Farts.

  2. Well, I was enjoying reading about the incredibly named wolf farts when I suddenly came upon a name I recognised – my own! Thank you so much for this honourable mention. I’m beyond flattered. Puffballs aside, this looks a lovely walk. I need to discover your part of the world more thoroughly now I have good friends who’ve moved there.

    1. Happy to make honourable mentions in your direction, Margaret. And yes – I think you’d like the Shropshire Hills and Wenlock Edge area. Lots of fine rambling paths.

    1. I think we only have the common puffball that’s edible. They can grow prettty huge in the right conditions, and are quite dense in texture. When sliced and fried, they taste much like mushrooms.

  3. I love that last shot. That one’s just perfect and cute. I’ve never heard of them called wolf farts or devil’s snuffbox, but they’re both quite colorful names, much more colorful than puffball. I’ve never seen them this small and I also never knew you could eat them. 🙂

  4. I would never have guess those could be dangerous, but then again, I’m a bit cautious because we have some very strange things growing around here and I don’t know what they are. No one else seems to know either. I LOVE the lawn by the windmill. I saw a similar kind of growth in upstate New York in unmowed areas between fields where hay was being cut and baled. The natural growth is beautiful and full of color, especially now — when it’s not raining, that is.

    1. Caution definitely wisest when wild foraging. But yes the array of grasses on Windmill Hill – an absolute wonder in mid-summer – so many textures and shades of green and russet and ochre.

  5. I have eaten giant puffball but didn’t enjoy it much to be honest – perhaps it was too old and past its sell-by date. But didn’t realise the spores are so dangerous. Are they related to lycopodium powder at all? (That used to be used in schools for certain experiments but was banned I think.)

    1. Wiki says lycopodium powder comes from club moss spores – but obviously pretty similar to puffball spores. I’ve read that hunters and poachers used to use ripe puffballs – puffing out the spores to test the wind direction.

      1. We used them to estimate the diameter of a molecule, but in a way the process was the same I suppose – the spores showing the movement of a droplet of oil as it spread into a disc over the surface of water.

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