Book Review

Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians

By William C. Roody.
Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
ISBN 0-8131-2262-7 (cloth) $60.00; ISBN 0-8131-9039-8 (paper) $35.00.

The press release for this great new book says that Bill Roody "has devoted a significant portion of his life to studying the mushroom." Fortunately, he has found time to study and photograph far more than just that one mushroom, and now he has taken time to share a substantial body of his knowledge and art with us. Anyone who has attended mushroom forays in the eastern U.S. likely has met Bill or at least seen him in action. He is a frequent and popular lecturer, workshop leader, and identifier at events of all sizes, and his activities earned him NAMA's prestigious Award for Contributions to Amateur Mycology in 2000. He's also well known for garnering an inordinate number of prizes in the annual NAMA photography contest. Although this is his first solo book, he was a co-author of North American Boletes with Alan and Arleen Bessette (reviewed in THE MYCOPHILE, March/April 2001). OK, so much for Bill; what about the book?

Cover

The introductory material is brief. It includes short sections on what mushrooms are and how they are named and classified, describes eating them, being poisoned by them, how to collect them, and how to make a spore print. This material is followed by directions on how to use the book and a picture key to the main groups into which the mushrooms have been categorized (different in some respects from similar breakdowns in other field guides). All of this occupies a mere 11 pages. This is followed by 486 pages of mushrooms, a glossary, list of suggested readings, and index.

Each of the nearly 400 featured species is presented on one page (or two pages if the comments are lengthy). Photos are typically a generous 11.4 x 7.6 cm (4.5 x 3 in.) and are placed at the top of the page. Simply put, they are consistently splendid. I can't think of a field guide that has better photos. The descriptions include the scientific and common names; a short list of synonyms; family and order names; characteristics of cap, gills (or tubes, teeth, etc.), stalk, spore print color, and spores; and occurrence (habit, habitat, fruiting season, life style, and commonness). A sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy, paragraph of comments highlights key features of possible look-alikes, gives the meaning of the specific epithet, and offers other interesting tidbits.

What I especially liked about the book (excerpts from a long list):

What I didn't like about the book (this is pretty much the entire list):

A couple of things that would have made it even better:.

Book page

And a few minor errors crept in, as they always do. There are occasional typos and a handful of ecologically mis-categorized species-Clavulina cristata and the hydnellums and sarcodons all are ectomycorrhizal. But that's what second printings are for.

Overall, this a wonderful book. As field guides go, I can think of none better. There are lots of mushrooms, described well and illustrated with can't-be-beat photographs. And, happily, the price is quite reasonable, given the quality and hefty content. Any mushroom hunter within a spore's-flight distance of the Appalachians will find it essential. Other Easterners and Midwesterners no doubt will find it very useful. And even Westerners would do well to get a copy for armchair foraying or preparing for a trip to what this book shows is a mycologically bountiful part of North America. Now that he's done writing, maybe we can talk Bill into hosting another NAMA foray so that we can give his book a real workout.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 44:4, 2003

Buy Mushrooms of West Virginia (softcover)
Buy Mushrooms of West Virginia (hardcover)