CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide

By Walter E. Sturgeon
2018, Ohio University Press
ISBN: 978-0-8214-2325-7, 978-0-8214-4639-3
paperback; 496 pages; 7 × 10 in.
$35 ($28 from the publisher’s website)

Walt Sturgeon is a well-known field mycologist and mushroom photographer from eastern Ohio. For many years he has been a mainstay at NAMA and NEMF forays, as well as at more local events. He has now added to the growing number of field guides for parts of the eastern USA, in this case covering the length of the Appalachian Mountain chain from northern Georgia to the New England states.  

This is a fairly standard, no-frills field guide. Walt wastes little time with introductories — a mere eight pages sets the stage for the main content. He explains what mushrooms, a.k.a. macro fungi, are, a bit about how to collect them and prepare for identifying one’s finds, and then introduces the categories used in the species accounts in “How to Use this Book” sections that don’t actually tell you how to use the book. After the “Mushrooms” section, the book concludes with a two-page glossary, short list of mostly regional mushroom organizations, selected print and web references, and two indexes — one to the scientific names and the other to the common names and general topics.  

Just shy of 400 species are described and illustrated. A few additional species are pictured here and there, but without descriptions. The species accounts are categorized by overall morphology and, in the case of the gilled mushrooms, spore color and, sometimes, genus. Thus, Amanita, Russula, milk mushrooms (Lactarius and Lactifluus), medium to large white-spored mushrooms with a waxy texture (Hygrophorus), small white-spored mushrooms with a waxy texture (Hygrocybe, Gliophorus, and Humidicutis), medium to large white-spored terrestrial mushrooms (Tricholoma and Melanoleuca), other white-spored mushrooms, coloredspored mushrooms, boletes, polypores, chanterelles and allies, club-like and coral-like fungi, spine fungi, puffballs and related fungi, mushrooms with cup-shaped or flat fruiting bodies, jelly and rubbery fungi, and morels and false morels.  

No key to these groups is provided and the brief discussions of them in the “How to Use this Book” sections don’t provide enough information for folks who aren’t already familiar with amanitas, russulas, milk caps, boletes, corals, and so forth. For each of the groups, a brief general introduction is provided, followed by a key to just the species included in the book. These are not your typical dichotomous keys. Although, in the larger groups such as amanitas and boletes, there are subgroups, essentially all that is provided is a list of thumbnail descriptions of the species that must be worked through one-by-one. The most extreme case is for the club and coral fungi, where there is only a single list consisting of 21 entries. I suspect for most folks it would be quicker, and probably more effective, to simply page through the 21 photos. The boletes are broken into eight subgroups. The one entitled “Not staining blue when bruised and not reticulate” includes eight species — but many of the species listed in other groups also don’t stain blue and don’t have reticulate stipes. Another of the subgroups requires one to know what a suillus is. Most folks with a bit of experience will know that, but not everyone.  

The species accounts are presented in traditional fashion beginning with the scientific name (including authority), any commonly encountered synonyms or misapplied (usually European) names, common name(s) if there is one, family, descriptions of cap, flesh, gills, and stem (or other relevant body parts for the non-cap-andgills fungi), spore print, ecology, edibility, and comments. No information is provided on microscopic features. One (usually) or two photos appear at the bottom of the page. The information mostly is brief and to the point although some of the Comments sections are lengthier. The text is not heavily laden with jargon. Names of species are as up-to-date as they can be in this era where at least a few names will have changed between the time the manuscript goes to the publisher and the book is printed, and the identifications appear to be spot-on as you would expect from Walt.  

The photos are mostly of high mycological quality and large enough to show essential details. Unfortunately, the quality of reproduction does not do justice to many of them. Those are dark, somewhat muddy, and, in some cases, well off-color. Given that Walt spent many years photographing in the analog era, I suspect these were film originals and that the problem lies in the inability of most slide scanners to accurately capture the images from the original transparencies. This doesn’t present a major problem for identification purposes, but it does detract from the overall attractiveness of the presentation.  

As alluded to above, this is an addition to a growing stable of field guides for the eastern USA. So is another one called for and who might want to own it? For comparison, I generated a combined species list for Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide and my current favorite guides for the region: Southeastern Mushrooms (321 spp), by Todd Elliott and Steve Stephenson, Tim Baroni’s Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada (540 spp), and Bill Roody’s venerable Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians (400 spp). Together the four volumes treat, by my count, 939 species and one needs all four to cover all of those species. The nearly 400 species in Appalachian Mushrooms are roughly evenly divided among being unique to it and shared with either one, two, or three of the others. So it would make a solid addition to the library of most eastern mushroom hunters. However, given the paucity of introductory material and lack of easyto- use keys, I wouldn’t recommend it as a first book for someone getting started in mushroom identification.

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi