Book Review

Mushrooms of the Boreal Forest

By Eugene F. Bossenmaier
University Extension Press, University of Saskatchewan
1997; 105 p.; ISBN 0-88880-355-9

This is not a new book but, given its availability at a greatly reduced price, one that seemed worth moving to the head of the review queue. Although not a mycologist, Eugene Bossenmaier is a Canadian wildlife biologist and has spent considerable time in the woods where he couldn’t help but notice the fungi. Boreal means northern and the boreal forest stretches across Canada, Alaska, Russia, and northernmost Europe. It is heavily dominated by ectomycorrhizal trees, including spruce, pine, larch, fir, birch, and aspen/cottonwood and so, not surprisingly, mushrooms can be exceedingly abundant there. This relatively short treatment presents brief looks at 220 species of characteristic boreal forest mushrooms, plus 3 slime molds.

The introductory matter occupies a mere eight pages and, following the Preface, includes brief discussions of the book itself; the boreal forest; how to use the book; biology, ecology, and anatomy of mushrooms; and appreciating forests through their mushrooms. The mushroom (and slime mold) descriptions follow and the book concludes with a brief section on mushroom edibility, glossary, and index.

The descriptions are organized by morphotype using the usual groups — gilled fungi (about two-thirds of the book’s species), ridged fungi (chanterelles), fleshy pored fungi (boletes), toothed fungi, coral and club fungi, woody pored fungi (polypores), puffballs and earthstars, morels, false morels and elfin saddles, cup fungi, jelly fungi, and “other” fungi. The descriptions are presented up to eight per page. They are very brief and are not adequate for confident identification. Thus, this book is best suited for use with more comprehensive guides and the latter should be consulted carefully before accepting a tentative identification — especially if you intend to consume your find. Each description is supported by a color photograph (sometimes two) on the facing page. The photos are generally of good to very good quality, but the small size of reproduction (mostly 5–7 cm) makes it difficult to see essential details in many cases. Because of the small size, many of the images were cropped very tightly so as to show the mushrooms at as large a size as possible. Unfortunately, this removes most of the mushrooms’ surroundings, making it very difficult to judge the size of the fruitbodies (and the descriptions give no indication of size). References to descriptions and images of the species in five field guides — Mushrooms Demystified (Arora), Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Canada (Groves), The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms (Lincoff), A Field Guide to Mushrooms—North America (McKnight & McKnight), and Mushrooms of Western Canada (Schalkwijk-Barendsen)—are given to facilitate cross-checking. Some of the mushrooms are identified to genus only, there are a couple mis-identifications and a few others that I question, and, as would be expected in a 15-year-old book, some of the names are no longer in favor.

Scattered throughout the descriptions section are many sidebars that present interesting information about fungal folklore, names, ecology, and so forth.
The brief section on edibility provides general advice for pursuing mycophagy safely and then highlights five “easily identified, non-poisonous” species—Morchella elata, Pleurotus ostreatus (actually P. populinus), Leccinum insigne, Hericium ramosum (now H. coralloides), and Dentinum (now Hydnum) repandum. For each of these, key identification features and simple cooking suggestions are given. However, inclusion of L. insigne here was not a good idea. There have been many reports of poisonings by reddish-capped leccinums in the U.S. Rockies, the Cascade Range, and in Alaska and, until it has been determined what species (singular or plural) has/have been responsible, caution should be advised when it comes to eating leccinums.

In summary, this is a good little book, just don’t over-rely on it. If you live in, or will be visiting, northern North America, it would make a useful companion for your other field guides. And if the sale price is still in effect when you read this, it would make an excellent buy.

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