Calostoma cinnabarinum: The Stalked Puffball-In-Aspic

Calostoma cinnabarinum, commonly known as the Stalked Puffball-In-Aspic, stands out as a strange yet captivating puffball-like mushroom species that can be found throughout the world, including the North American continent. The young fruiting bodies of this species have a very distinctive color and overall appearance. The newly emerged fruiting bodies feature a thick, yellow gelatinous envelope enveloping a vivid red, spherical head atop a concolorous or slightly yellowish net-like spongy stalk. With age, the external layer of this species begins to disintegrate into fragments consisting of the red membrane encased within the gelatinous substance, hence the moniker “puffball-in-aspic”.(1)

The taxonomic history of C. cinnabarinum is quite long and complex. It mainly consists of various mycologists over the last 400 or so years describing, redescribing, and reclassifying this species without much care for earlier works and classifications.

According to most mycological sources, this species was first described in 1692 by the English botanist Leonard Plunkenet as a “dusty fungus from Virginia, an elegant, twisted work with a coral-red stipe”. Over 100 years later, the German mycologist Christiaan Hendrik Persoon would provide the first scientific description of this species under the name Scleroderma callostoma and suggest a possible need for the creation of a new genus for this species. In 1810, the French botanist Nicaise Auguste Desvaux would heed Persoon’s suggestion and would create the genus Calostoma and assign the species its current name C. cinnabarinum. The next 100 years, however, would result in several botanists and mycologists describing, assigning, mislabeling, and creating new genera for this species. Unfortunately, all incorrectly, and the only thing remaining for this time are several synonymous names which include: Lycoperdon heterogeneum, Lycoperdon callostoma, Mitremyces heterogeneus, Gyropodium coccineum, Mitremyces lutescens, and Mitremyces cinnabarinum.(2)

Phylogenetics of Calostoma cinnabarinum is also quite interesting. Despite its common “puffball” name, C. cinnabarinum is neither related to true puffballsCalvatia, Calbovista, Lycoperdon, etc.) nor to stalked puffballs (Tulostoma, Podaxis, etc.). Modern molecular research has revealed that this species is rather distinct, and its closest relatives are in fact from the order of Boletales. As such, a new suborder of Sclerodermatineae was created in 2002 by a pair of German mycologists Manfred Binder and Andreas Bresinsky to contain Calostoma cinnabarinum as well as several other similar morphological outliers that don’t quite belong elsewhere.

Etymologically, the epithet “cinnabarinum” is of Ancient Greek origin. It is derived from the word “kinnábari” or “cinnabar” which refers to the scarlet-red form of mercury sulfide, commonly known as vermillion. This of course is in reference to the bright red color of C. cinnabarinum’s head.  

Lastly, readers may also come across this species as “Calostoma cinnabarina”. Although present almost ubiquitously in most field guides, this is an incorrect Latin spelling.

Identification and Description

This species is relatively easy to identify based on its characteristic macromorphological features, which include a scarlet-red head atop a net-like stalk all encased in a yellowish-orange outer gelatinous layer.

Fruiting Body: In its early stages, the fruiting body of this species is comprised of a yellowish-orange gelatinous envelope 4 to 9 mm thick, encasing a centrally located vermillion-red sphere, which represents the outer layer (exoperidium) of the spore case. The spore case itself is round to somewhat oval and can measure up to 2 cm in diameter. With time, both the gelatinous encasement and the red break down and slough off, littering the surrounding ground with red fragments often embedded in the gelatinous pulp of the outer layer. Through this process, the robust, non-gelatinous endoperidium becomes apparent. The endoperidium is of similar size and is at first red and has a powdery surface. At its apex, it ruptures through a cross-shaped apical pore, forming a peristome composed of 4-5 dark ridges that resemble a stitched scar. Through this pore, the endoperidium expels spores when externally stimulated (i.e., by rain droplets) and with time fades away to orange, yellow, or buff color. Characteristically, the peristome and ridges retain the red color longer than the rest of the endoperidial case.
Stem: The stem of C. cinnabarinum is short and thick. Itself, it is composed of several branching strands that anastomose to form a netted or reticulate/spongy structure. The stem measures 2 to 5 cm in height and 1-2 cm in width. Initially, the stem is also covered by the outer gelatinous layer, but as this layer is shed the stem becomes bare and covered in dirt particles, blending in with the ground. The color of the stem can vary from cinnabar-red to yellow brown. It also often fades with age.
Spore mass: The spore mass is contained within the endoperidium. It is initially white, becoming powdery and yellow to buff-colored at maturity.
Spores: The spores of this species measure 14-28 by 6-11 µm. They are elliptical to oblong and pitted. Characteristically, capillitium (a mass of sterile fibers measuring 4-6µm in width, used for spore retention) is present in young specimens but soon disappears. When treated with potassium hydroxide (KOH), the spores are hyaline.
Smell: This species does not have a distinctive odor.
Edibility: Mycological field guides commonly classify C. cinnabarinum as inedible, however historical accounts document instances of people from Central America having consumed it. Generally, since the fruiting bodies begin development growth beneath the soil, they become too rigid by the time they emerge, rendering them unsuitable for consumption. Additionally, their unique” appearance is also regarded as unappealing.
Habitat and Ecology: C. cinnabarinum can be found growing solitary to gregarious in areas of high elevation and high annual rainfall. It is frequently found in humid forests, moist moss beds, or near mountain creeks, and has an ectomycorrhizal relationship with oak trees. Furthermore, the preference for higher elevations is more pronounced in warmer regions (>1000 meters).
Range/Geographic Distribution: While being a rather uncommon species, it is widely distributed.

  • In the continental United States, it can be found from Massachusetts to as far south as the Appalachian Mountains or even Florida. The US range has been known to extend as far west as Texas and further accounts report specimens from Southwestern states.
  • In Central and South America, it can be found in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Colombia, and Brazil.
  • Asian and Southeast Asian specimens have been collected from China, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.

 Fruiting Season: Spring through fall.


C. cinnabarinum is relatively easy to identify and differentiate based on its characteristic morphologic features. Additionally, the groups of mushrooms such as other stalked puffballs and stinkhorns that may be confused for this species can easily be differentiated based on the following two points:

  • The thick gelatinous outer layer can easily distinguish C. cinnabarinum from other stalked puffballs as they lack this layer.
  • The powdery spore mass can easily separate C. cinnabarinum from stinkhorn species as they have slimy spore masses.

Below are offered differentiating features of select look-a-like species which may commonly be confused for C. cinnabarinum.

  • lutescens: this species has a longer stem that elevates the spore case above the ground, and a light to bright yellow spore case that usually has a wide collar at its base formed by the outer peridium.
  • ravenelii: this is a smaller species with a gelatinous-fibered stalk and non-gelatinous spore case that is tan to yellowish and often decorated with warts left by the outer peridium.
  • microsporum: this is yet another smaller with smaller spores (<11µm).


There is no readily available modern scientific research on the medicinal or other beneficial uses of this species, however, some mycological sources report the use of C. cinnabarinum in Central American traditional medicine. One example reports the use of roasted specimens mixed with mineral water for the alleviation of gastrointestinal distress.


Michael Kuo. Calostoma cinnabarinum [Internet]. 2019.

Döring M. Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Calostoma cinnabarinum Desv., 1809

Stalked puffball-in-aspic (Calostoma cinnabarinum) – JungleDragon

Aspic Puffball Calostoma cinnabarina. In: A Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; 1987. p. 344. (The Peterson field guide series).

The Stalked Puffball in Aspic. In: The Audubon Society field guide to North American mushrooms. A Chanticleer Press ed. New York: Knopf : Distributed by Random House; 1981. p. 841. (The Audubon Society field guide series).

Calostoma cinnabarina (Red Slimy-Stalked Puffball). In: Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi. 2nd ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press; 1986. p. 718–9.

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