CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Boletes of Eastern North America

By Alan E. Bessette, William C. Roody, & Arleen R. Bessette
2016, Syracuse University Press
ISBN: 978-0-8156-3482-9 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-8156-1074-8 (paper)
Hardcover $150.00; Paper $69.95 
471 pp.

The stable of books by the Bessettes & Co. continues to grow. So quickly that in the last few years it’s been tough to keep up. Their recent Boletes of Eastern North America is a much-needed revision of the North American Boletes: A Color Guide to the Fleshy Pored Mushrooms, published in 2000 (also by Syracuse University Press). But is the high price— typical of SU Press—justified, especially by those of us who already have the earlier edition?

If you already own any of the Bessettes’ mushroom books (and it’s likely you do), Boletes of Eastern North America will be familiar and easy to navigate. The introductory material at the front is very clearly written and there are tips for collecting, cooking, and preserving boletes. There are useful keys to each bolete group; the use of microscopic features and chemical color reactions necessary in the identification process is explained. Additional features useful to beginner and expert alike are a glossary, list of references and other resources; plus there are indices to common names and to scientific names. Again, all of this is pretty familiar to those who have the previous bolete book.

What is different are the names. How much can change in a decade and a half? Turns out a lot, if we’re talking boletes. Their 2000 book—which was designed to cover the entire continent—listed 17 genera. This new treatment (meant to cover only the East) lists a bewildering (to me) 40 genera with many that don’t roll easily off the tongue like Lanmaoa and Buchwaldoboletus, and still others that you may be able to pronounce, like Bothia, but … what was it previously called? If you are scratching your head right now and were contemplating taking the plunge into a bolete field guide, this book is for you. Especially if you are one to get bogged down by or shy away from a lot of technical information. Boletes of Eastern North America has a very brief explanation of the reasoning for each new bolete genus name (in the case of Bothia it’s to accommodate a single species) but without a lot of technical detail. It would have been very useful to me, for the authors to have included a key to all the genus in this book. Indeed, I’m usually less concerned in knowing the species in my hand as to what the genus is. Just how many of these new genera will still be in use in another 18 years is anyone’s guess—maybe a new round of re-renaming in the meantime will keep mushroom book authors steadily employed!

In many of the species descriptions there is explanation where the specific epithet comes from (it’s likely that coauthor Bill Roody had a hand in this; his Mushrooms of West Virginia is still my overall go-to for mushrooms of the East when I am in the field, and due in part to his great etymology notes). So we see that Boletus fairchildianus was first collected at Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami, Florida; Boletus gertrudiae is named “for the late Gertrude Wells of Connecticut,” and so on.

Another big improvement over the 2000 boletes book is the quality of the photos. The photos for the brand-new Boletes of Eastern North America are much larger and located on the same pages as the descriptions. (The older book had very small photos grouped together inconveniently in plates.) Many descriptions even have more than one photo; an example is Tylopilus rubrobrunneus, a mushroom that is fairly common throughout the East but confusing given its variable color. (It was also described by my undergrad mentor, Sam Mazzer.) Sometimes it’s brownish, other times brownish purple, and still other times the cap is quite purple. Their excellent photos depict this myco-chameleon nicely. A small frustration I have with this and others by the Bessettes & Co. is the location of the photos. A photo precedes each description and with no empty space between the previous description. In many cases that means a photo is “orphaned” at the bottom of the righthand page. To get to its description you will have to turn the page. In some cases, flipping to the mushroom I’m looking for, I see a nice photo, but am oblivious that an additional photo of that species is on the preceding page; without flipping backwards I would miss it altogether. I’m sure this format cuts down on wasted space and reduces the overall page count, and cost, but it’s a small peeve.

Speaking of format, I’ve long thought that Syracuse University Press should make a pocket-sized field guide version of each of their mushroom books. These books all work great as desk reference books, but they’re too large (and pricey) to risk lugging into the woods. I would think they could be shrunk down by simply shrinking the font, images, and white space. If the powers that be are listening, I’d pay for field guide versions of all their books.

In summary, despite a couple small quibbles, I find Boletes of Eastern North America to be a welcome update to an already very good book on boletes, and another fine effort by this team of authors.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi