Book Review

A Field Guide to Tropical Amazon Mushrooms

By Daniel Winkler and Larry Evans
ISBN 978-0-99042-380-5
Mushroaming Publishing / 2014 / $8.95

In the past few years, Harbour Publishing has released two short brochure-type guides to the edible mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest and California by mushroom adventurer Daniel Winkler. Now Daniel is back, along with fellow adventurer and myco-movie-star Larry Evans of Know Your Mushrooms fame, with a guide for the tropical Amazon, including the westernmost portion of Brazil and the lower eastern slope of the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Like its predecessors, 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.

Two panels provide a brief introduction to mushrooms, their classification, and ecosystem functions. In the previous publications, users were cautioned not to rely on the publication alone for identifying mushrooms, especially ones intended for the table. That warning should have been included here too. This section has a number of little mistakes, such as referring to the order Agaricales as a class (the ending “ales” signifies the taxonomic level Order), to the genera Schizophyllum and Pycnoporus as species, and to soil nutrients such as nitrogen as “minerals.” However, these are details that most readers would not notice and that do not detract from the usefulness of the guide.

Over 80 “species” are presented—some actually are species groups or are identified only to genus, which is not surprising given the limited mycological research that has gone on in the neotropics. Their photos and accompanying text are presented four or five per panel. Unlike the previous two guides that focused on edible and toxic species, this one does not utilize a system of icons to indicate edibility.

The species descriptions/comments, which were written by Evans, are very brief and do not provide much information for making confident determinations. Typically the size is mentioned, along with a few key features and an indication of edibility, either in general or with reference to use by local people. No information about microscopic features is provided. Each species is illustrated by a color photo or, in some cases, two photos with the second typically being a close-up of details. The images, nearly all taken by Winkler, are rather small (mostly about 6.5 ´ 3.5 cm). Most of them are of quite good quality and are effective in displaying these beautiful, sometimes bizarre, mushrooms despite the small size. The bulk of the species included are rather distinctive in appearance and so it seems likely that they can be reasonably well identified by means of picture-matching. However, few of the groups have received more than cursory study and so the degree to which look-alike species might occur is pretty much unknown.

If you’re interested in a visual teaser that could well entice you to join the authors on one of their trips to the tropics (though you would be advised not to listen to Evans’s stories about, let’s say “interesting,” encounters between humans and many of the small creatures that share their Amazonian home with these beautiful fungi), this might do the trick in a convenient, affordable format.

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