Book Review

Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains

By Vera Stucky Evenson
Westcliffe Publishers, 1997
ISBN 1-56579-192-4 (Paperback)
$25.00

One of the treats of the 1997 NAMA Foray at Copper Mountain, Colorado was the opportunity to see this new field guide and assess its usefulness in situ. It took only a quick survey of the over 300 species in the display area to show that this book indeed provides a good picture of the larger fleshy fungi of the southern Rockies.

Trained in botany and microbiology, Vera Evenson is an experienced amateur mycologist and mushroom photographer, and works as curator of the fungus herbarium at the Denver Botanic Gardens. She is an active member of the Colorado Mycological Society and has done extensive teaching about mushrooms, as well as mycological research. The latter includes a study of the veiled species of Hebeloma in collaboration with Alexander Smith and Sam Mitchel, the Colorado mycology icon to whom this book is dedicated, and in whose memory this year’s NAMA Foray was named.

Cover

The initial appearance of the book (tall and narrow) is reminiscent of the three “Smith family” field guides (The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide and its western and southern follow-ups). An attractive wrap-around color photograph of Tricholoma flavovirens graces the front and back covers. Inside, the organization is fairly typical for a field guide. The early chapters include most of the standard material for a beginner’s field guide -- an introduction to mushrooms and their names, how to use the book to identify them, an overview of their biology and ecology, where and when to find them, how to collect them, and cautions for consumption, including discussion of mushroom toxins. However, an unusual and valuable addition, appearing as part of the table of contents, is a list of the illustrated species that includes the collection number for each, so that an interested researcher could locate the illustrated material in its resting place at the Denver Botanic Gardens herbarium. Such documentation is rarely done for popular books in this country, however its importance is underscored by the addition of a voucher program at this year’s foray. Each of the more than 300 identified species was documented by dried specimens, photographs, and collecting notes, all to be permanently deposited at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Although there are still a few details to be worked out at future forays, it is clear that this activity (spear-headed by Dr. Jack Murphy with assistance from several NAMA-supported graduate students) will greatly increase the scientific value of our collections which otherwise would be reflected only by a sterile list of tentative names.

The bulk of the book is devoted to the species accounts. There is a picture key to the main groups of fleshy fungi inside the front cover and two family level keys for the agarics and the aphyllophorales, but I suspect the book will be used more in picture-matching than keying mode. Over 170 species are described and illustrated. Each account includes taxonomic information (Order and Family), edibility, and key identification features easily accessed in the margin. The main text includes a concise macromorphologic description, spore characteristics, ecology and fruiting pattern, and miscellaneous notes. The latter typically explain the meaning of the Latin species epithet and offer observations to help distinguish the species in question from possible lookalikes. There is an excellent color photograph taken in natural setting for each species. The descriptions are clear and well written and promise to be effective for identification. One shortcoming is the rather small number of species mentioned in the notes section. I would have liked to see many more in the manner of Mushrooms Demystified. This helps the user considerably in identifying species that aren’t described in the book. A glossary and list of suggested readings complete the book.

Of the 174 species described, only about 30 (17%) occur primarily in the Rockies and are not readily found in other books. Of the remainder, roughly half (70, or 40% of the total) are common throughout much of North America and are included in nearly all general field guides. This high percentage of widespread species and the emphasis on large obvious ones suggest that the book will be of most use to those who don’t already own a library of field guides. It will give them a good one-stop overview of the fungi they are most likely to encounter in this part of the country. However, those with an interest in the less noticeable or rarer fungi will have to resort to other sources to identify their collections. Thus, I hope that a future edition of this book will include a greater number and variety of the less common Rocky Mountain species to increase its utility to more experienced mushroomers.

Overall, this is a very attractive and well written book that provides a good introduction to the more conspicuous mushrooms of the Colorado and New Mexico Rockies. It is reasonably priced and shows that a person need not be a professional mycologist to produce a good field guide (in keeping with the theme of this year’s foray -- “the symbiosis between amateur and professional mycologists”). Evenson deserves a lot of praise for this guide and hopefully will receive an equal amount of encouragement to continue working on the Colorado fungi so that an expanded second edition will become a reality some day!

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 39:6, 1998

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