Book Review

Mushrooms of the Southeastern United States

By Alan E. Bessette, William C. Roody, Arleen R. Bessette, and Dail L. Dunaway
Syracuse University Press, 2007
ISBN 0-646-44674-6, $95

At this year’s NAMA Foray in West Virginia, there will be no need to rely solely on the professionals for identifications. This newly released volume, along with team Bessette’s earlier Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Bill Roody’s Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, will provide a well illustrated arsenal for everyone’s use in putting names on the fungi to be found on the field trips. As it happens, West Virginia falls within the territory covered by each of these three guides.

Cover

The newcomer, Southeastern Mushrooms, is the same size (7 by 10 inches) and very similar in content and appearance to Northeastern Mushrooms, but is considerably shorter (484 illustrated species [by my count] in 375 pages, versus ~640 illustrated species in 582 pages). The front matter is relatively brief (only 11 pages), consisting of introductions to mushroom facts and fallacies; mushroom anatomy; mycorrhizal relationships; when, where, and how to collect mushrooms; guidance for using the book; an explanation of the material in the species descriptions; and a dichotomous key to the groups of fungi—Chanterelles and Allies, Gilled Mushrooms, Boletes, Cup and Saucer Fungi, and so on. In Northeastern Mushrooms, a photographic picture “key,” with brief descriptions, was used for this purpose.

The back matter includes brief appendices on microscopic examination of mushrooms, use of chemical reagents for identification purposes, fungal classification, and mycophagy (including a handful of “artery-clogging,” according to an anonymous source, recipes), plus glossary, list of recommended readings, and indexes to common and scientific names.

In-between the front and back matter are the photographs (all grouped together at the beginning of the section) and species descriptions. A departure from the Northeastern Mushrooms content is the lack of additional keys in this volume. Once you’ve determined the major group, then identification is a matter of description-reading (the only option for the handful of species that aren’t illustrated) and picture-matching. This lack of keys to genera and species also means that far fewer species are covered in total, compared to the number in Northeastern Mushrooms (where roughly 800-900 species were keyed, but not illustrated or described, so nearly 1500 species were mentioned altogether). The descriptions are pretty much the same as in the previous book, including the scientific name; common name if there is one; extensive macroscopic features including spore print color; brief listing of key microscopic features such as spore size and shape and cystidium shape; fruiting habit, substrate, habitat, and time-of-year; and assessment of edibility. Brief comments add information about synonyms, look-alikes, etymology, and uses.

The photographs are formatted in the same manner as in Northeastern Mushrooms, mostly eight per page in horizontal orientation. Some vertically oriented photos are included and these occupy the space that two horizontals would otherwise occupy. Their larger size noticeably improves their utility for identification and makes me wish the horizontal photos were larger. The quality of the photos is, with only a few exceptions, very good to excellent, as is typical for books by the Bessettes and Roody.

All in all, another top notch book … but it’s $95, with no chance (at least currently) to opt for a less expensive paperback version. So it could be a tough decision for those whose disposable income is mostly being diverted to the gas tank. To help in your deliberations, I did some species counting, comparing Mushrooms of the Southeastern US, to Mushrooms of the Northeastern US, Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, and A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms, by Nancy Smith Weber and, her father, the late Alexander H. Smith. From my westerner’s viewpoint at least, I consider these to be the major regional guides for the eastern US. They describe and illustrate 484, 641, 402, and 241 species, respectively. Among the 484 species in Southeastern Mushrooms, there are 282, 329, and 340 that aren’t in the three other books, respectively, including 186 that are not covered in any of the others. Thus, although it comes at a price, Southeastern Mushrooms adds substantially to the list of eastern species described and well illustrated in available guides. So give some thought to carpooling on a few forays—save two or three fill-ups and expand your library!

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 48:4-5, 2007

Buy Mushrooms of the Southeastern United States