Book Review

Mushrooms of Cape Cod and the National Seashore

By Arleen R. Bessette, Alan E. Bessette, and William J. Neill
Syracuse University Press, 2001
$26.95 (paper) / $59.95 (cloth)

For many of you, it is probably enough for me merely to say that the busy Bessettes have churned out yet another mushroom book -- this time in collaboration with William J. Neill of the Boston Mycological Club. From the color of the cover to the familiar layout and superb quality of the photographs, it clearly is kin to their previous books, especially Mushrooms of Northeastern North America (MNNA) and North American Boletes (NAB). Doubtless that will be sufficient recommendation for you to buy it.

However, others of you might ask, “do I really need another Bessette book?” I’ll return to that question after the requisite rundown of the new book’s features.

The book is clean and attractive in appearance, with a nice trio of orange-capped Amanita muscaria on the cover, captured by Bill Roody. It’s relatively tall and slender (24 x 14 centimeters), and fairly thin (1.2 centimeters; 177 pages); too big for most pockets, but convenient enough for a daypack or glove compartment. The cover of the paper edition is not terribly sturdy and probably would suffer quickly from field use unless treated with a great deal of care.

Cover

Inside, the title page illustration is a lovely full-page photograph of the Sagamore Bridge over Cape Cod Canal. Other equally lovely photos of Cape scenes grace the introductory pages and made me wish comparable shots of the mushroom habitats had been included. The short and to-the-point up-front stuff consists of introductions to Cape Cod history, mushroom habitats on the Cape, mycorrhizal associations, and the basics of mushrooms and how to find and collect them. This is followed by a dichotomous key to the major groups of mushrooms (gilled mushrooms, boletes, chanterelles, puffballs, etc.), illustrated with representative photos of each group. Frankly, I think a straight picture key, without most of the text and with clearer close-ups of gills, pores, teeth, etc. would have been just as effective and taken fewer pages.

The book ends with a glossary, list of references, and separate indexes to common and scientific names. In between the intro and the outro are about 130 pages of mushroom descriptions and illustrations, arranged by major group.

The descriptions are brief, consisting of macroscopic characteristics of the fruiting body, spore print color, a few key microscopic features such as spore shape and size, habitat and fruiting season, and additional comments, including mention of similar species. Generally the descriptions serve well but, in many cases, more extensive comments would have been helpful.

The photographs are grouped together following the descriptions section. As usual in Arleen and Alan’s books, they are top-notch -- beautiful, sharp, and informative. Most are horizontally oriented, about 10 x 6 centimeters in size; a few are vertically oriented and twice that size. The relatively large size of the photos compared to those in MMNA and NAB is a welcome plus. Most of the photos were taken by the authors; Ray Fatto, David Harris, Scott Redhead, and Bill Roody also contributed.

All-in-all, this is another attractive, functional, well produced book. Do you need it? If you are a mushroom-book junkie, regardless of where you live, you’ll need it to feed your habit. If you live on or near Cape Cod, or visit there often, and are interested in mushrooms, it’ll be a great help in identifying your finds and, thus, you’ll want it.

On the other hand, if you live in the western two-thirds of the continent, are not a book junkie, and aren’t into armchair foraying, this probably isn’t a book you’ll need to have, especially at $27 (a bit high in my opinion). Although many of the included species do occur beyond the East, their number is too small to make the book generally useful in the central and western regions. Better to save your money for a down payment on North American Boletes.

So that leaves a large population in the East, outside the Cape Cod area, for whom the decision might not be as straightforward. Does the book provide coverage of enough species not included elsewhere to warrant plunking down $27? In particular, do you need this if you already own Mushrooms of Northeastern North America? Here’s a few statistics to help you decide.

By my count, the new book has illustrations and descriptions of 144 species. Roughly 90 of these are also included in MNNA. However, only about 40 of them are illustrated with the same photograph in both, so nearly 50 of them shown in different photos. That leaves about 60 species described and illustrated that do not appear in MNNA. Many of these do appear in other guides, but perhaps half of them have not been commonly, if at all, illustrated previously. Thus, there is a significant number of “new” species here, more than I was expecting when I first opened the book. The use of new photos for species that have appeared elsewhere is also a plus -- I originally assumed that nearly all of the illustrations would be repeats from MNNA.

So, my recommendation for you Easterners is to first buy MNNA if you don’t already own it. It’s the most comprehensive guide available for your area and offers a greater number of species per buck. Once you have it though, you’ll find Mushrooms of Cape Cod to be a useful companion.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 43:2, 2002

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