Book Review

Mushrooms and Other Fungi of the Midcontinental United States

By D. M. Huffman, L. H. Tiffany, G. Knaphus, and R. A. Healy
2008; University of Iowa Press, Iowa City; 2nd Edition
384 pp.; ISBN 1-58729-627-6; $39.95 (softbound)

The University of Iowa Press is to be commended for reissuing this very popular field guide to mushrooms and other fungi of the tallgrass prairie region of North America. This completely revised second edition of Mushrooms and Other Fungi includes the keys, wonderful line drawings, and photographs of the first edition, which came out nearly 20 years ago, plus many worthwhile surprises. New to this edition are many added species (24) with descriptions and photographs. The authors have updated scientific names, added photos where there were none and replaced poor photos with better ones, improved the keys, added some species and deleted others. Some of the new photos—125 in all—serve as a second photo for a species, where it is helpful to show details that cannot be viewed in a single photo. A modern treatment of some taxonomically troublesome mushroom groups (e.g. Armillaria spp.) is not complete without discussions based on the latest data using molecular methods for analysis and this edition benefits from a few of these additions here and there. annotated the bibliography. But for my money, the best addition is with the large section of truffles and false truffles, new to the second edition.

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While Mushrooms and Other Fungi targets species of the “midcontinental region” (including Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin), mycophiles living outside this region will also find this book very useful as most species covered are common throughout much of North America wherever oak-maple-hickory forests are forayed. Of its notable strengths, is the coverage of lawn, meadow, and tallgrass prairie species, as well as, those denizens sandy and dune areas. The section on Gasteromycetes (including bird’s nests, puffballs and their ilk, and stinkhorns) is unequaled in most field guides.

The authors describe each species’ cap, gills, stalk, annulus, and season when it is most likely to be seen as well as such characteristics as edibility and toxicity. In their detailed and lively introduction they discuss the economic and environmental aspects of fungi, basic mushroom biology, nomenclature, edibility and toxicity, and habitats and time of fruiting. Most important are the keys, which lead the dedicated reader to the major groups of fungi included in this guide. The section on mushrooms includes keys to their genera in addition to the species within each family discussed, and each of the subsequent sections has a key to the genera and species except where so few species are discussed that a key is not necessary. The volume also includes a glossary and two bibliographies, one with general and one with technical references.

An obvious negative attribute of this book—to some mushroom forayers—is the lack of common names attached to the taxa of this book. It’s not a big deal to me, as I’m often confounded and confused by all the local names given to some mushrooms. However, I do know that many feel more comfortable in speaking the local patois. The only real drawback to me is the lack of interesting anecdotes to accompany some of the species; accounts of famous mycologists’ comments or details how a particular name was derived etc. (Which is what I find particularly enjoyable of other field guides like Bill Roody’s book or that of Gary Lincoff.) Nevertheless the concise, detailed technical descriptions and captivating color photos the authors of Mushrooms and Other Fungi convey their passionate fondness for these diverse and colorful organisms, whose mysterious appearances and disappearances have long made them objects of fascination.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi

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