Book Review

A Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of California

By Daniel Winkler
Harbour Publishing, 2012, $7.95
ISBN 978-1-55017-589-9

Just over a year ago, Harbour Publishing released a short brochure-type guide to the edible mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest by mushroom adventurer Daniel Winkler. Now Daniel is back with a guide for California. Like its predecessor, this publication is best described as a laminated, accordion-folded, small poster. When folded, it is about 9 inches high and half as wide. Unfolded, it extends to about 36 inches, still 9 inches high. Given the similarity of the two guides, this review will read much like the first.

Two panels provide a brief introduction to mushrooms, their identification, edibility, habitat, and seasonal occurrence, plus a key to the symbols or icons used in the species descriptions. Wisely, users are cautioned not to rely on this publication alone for identifying mushrooms, especially ones intended for the table. Descriptions are presented four or five per panel.

Fifty-three species are presented—39 good or choice edibles, 4 edible with caution, and 10 poisonous, including 3 deadly species. These are indicated by a system of icons—a green circle with green fork and knife for good edible, the same with an added gold star for choice edible, a golden yellow “warning” triangle with fork and knife for edible with caution, and a red circle with international “no” slash for poisonous. Each icon is then bordered in green, yellow, or gray to indicate the species’s ease of identification—easy, moderate, or only with great care. A clever idea, but the small size of the icons makes it a bit difficult to see the borders clearly. Thirty-three of the species are also in the Pacific Northwest guide (nearly all with the same photos). Of the 20 species that are only in this guide, at least 10 also occur in the PNW.

The descriptions are very brief and each is accompanied by a color photo (or sometimes two or three). The photos are rather small (no more than about 6 x 4 cm) and most include very little of the mushrooms’ surroundings, making it hard to get a good sense of scale. Most of the images are of good quality, although some fail to show essential ID features, such as the volvas of some of the amanitas, and the ocher-yellow gills of Russula xerampelina. A few, such as those for Lactarius deliciosus group and Boletus edulis var. grandedulis, are too dark and fail to provide a good sense of the fungus. The photo for Russula cyanoxantha actually shows R. occidentalis, the image for Lactarius rubidus (candy cap) seems rather dark for the typical California oak associate (although it fits the similar-smelling taxon that is found with conifers in the Pacific Northwest), and the image for Pleurotus ostreatus either is an atypical representation or is of something else.

If you’re interested in an overview of the principal edible fungi of the Golden State, this provides the key information in a convenient, affordable format.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Mycophile