Book Review

A Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest

By Daniel Winkler
Harbour Publishing, 2011, $7.95
ISBN 978-1-55017-542-4

Daniel Winkler is probably best known for leading mushroom and plant trips to Tibet, where he has become an expert on the caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis, yartsa gunbu, “summer grass, winter worm”) and its role in the culture and economy of many rural communities. His new closer-to-home publication is perhaps 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.

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.

The descriptions are very brief and each is accompanied by a color photo (or sometimes two). The photos are rather small (mostly about 6 x 4.5 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 to very good quality, although some fail to show essential ID features, such as the sac-like volva of Amanita phalloides, the volvas of A. muscaria and A. smithiana (not “A. smithii”), and the ocher-yellow gills of Russula xerampelina. By my count, 51 species are presented — 38 good or choice edibles, 4 edible with caution, and 9 poisonous. 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.

If you’re interested in an overview of the principal edible fungi of this mushroom-rich part of North America, this provides the key information in a convenient, affordable format.

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