CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide

By Dennis E. Desjardin, Michael G. Wood, & Frederick A. Stevens
Timber Press, 2015
Hardcover, 8 ¾ X 11 ¼, 560 p.
ISBN 978-1-60469-353-9
Book’s website: www.californiamushrooms

Among the United States, California is first in population, third in area, third in miles of coastline, has the highest and lowest points in the contiguous U.S., the southernmost glacier, and more forestland than any other state except Alaska. It is no wonder then that there are eight mushroom clubs in California. With conditions ranging from subarctic in the mountains to subtropical in the south there are plenty of habitats for mushrooms to populate. The Mediterranean climate in much of the state supports many interesting and also endemic fungi.

This new book California Mushrooms by Desjardin, Wood, and Stevens shows the beauty and diversity of the state’s mushrooms and the subtitle “The Comprehensive Identification Guide” is well-deserved. The 650 species descriptions include comments for an additional 475 similar species in California. The fungi selected represent common species, species from a variety of habitats, species described from or endemic to California, and ones having quality photos. The gilled mushrooms take up 310 of the 560 pages. The rest of the fungi are a good selection of the boletes and other macro-fungi. Slime molds and lichens are not included. The excellent Michael Wood & Fred Stevens website, The Fungi of California ( has similar coverage of 670 species. The new book is not a copy; it has updated content and has species descriptions absent from the website. Book lovers take note, this is a hefty tome with cover dimensions of 8.8” × 11.3” × 1.4” and weight of 4.64 pounds.

The species descriptions follow traditional morphological groups from light-spored gilled mushrooms at the start to truffles and false truffles at the end. Each group has a key to the described species. Unlike the long keys of Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified (1981), the related or similar species discussed in the comments are not included in the keys. There are some interesting deviations from the norm, such as placing the descriptions for the Hypomyces species after that of their hosts. There are one or two photos per page, one per species. Descriptions range from a half to a full page. Photos are generally excellent with great color reproduction. You are sure to find mushrooms here that you were not aware of (e.g., Rimbachia, Veluticeps) or perhaps you may finally identify those crusts lurking in your local woods (e.g., Byssomerulius, Ceriporia).

This book is focused on California but of value for the West Coast and can be useful as an extra reference for those in the East. Many of the mushrooms are found across the country in suitable habitats. The details on macro- and micro-morphology are for what is observed in California specimens. The distribution comments and habitat mostly apply to California or the West Coast. The known, or in some cases unknown, status regarding edibility is given with each description. The microscopic characters are described and also used in the keys when needed. The index does not list species names by epithet (zelleri, Boletus) but does include synonyms (Boletus zelleri) and common names. A glossary covers the terms used in the book.

The introduction has good coverage of the biology, ecology, edibility, as well as where to look, how to collect, and how to identify mushrooms. In the introduction the authors discuss their usage of names in relation to ongoing research and taxonomic change. There is an excellent four page discussion of nomenclature (based on rules), taxonomy (done by consensus), morphology (observed characters), and phylogeny (evolutionary relationships). The authors of the species names are given along with recent synonyms and misapplied names. Common names are given when they are widely accepted. A debatable practice is the usage and publication of unpublished (provisional) names (nom. prov.) and combinations (comb. prov.). These are new species and transfers to different genera that are not formally published and as such have no status. At least in this book they are marked as such, which should avoid nomenclatural problems. Two of these new combinations are now published and listed on, Lactarius rubidus and Xerocomellus dryophilus. The awesome text box “What’s in a name?” untangles several knots to explain their use of Amanita calyptroderma; see page 93.

A minor point that applies to all published guides is that between the time of manuscript preparation and book release there may be changes or updates in names and species concepts, or they are simply unknown to the authors. Here are two examples of the few that I noticed. Polyporus varius is mentioned as a separate species from Polyporus leptocephalus (P. elegans) rather than a synonym; the fault is with the synonymy mess on Species Fungorum. The description and photo for Exidia glandulosa appears to represent Exidia nigricans; this clarification in species concepts by P. Roberts (2009) has not made it into American guides. But the book clearly pays attention to taxonomic details. One example, page 176, is Laccaria laccata var. pallidifolia (Peck) Peck, a cumbersome name that resulted when the later designation of a type specimen for the species turned out to be a less common variety.

If you are a mushroomer on the West Coast or need a reason to visit California, I see no reason not to get this book; it is a bargain even at retail. If you collect mushroom books then you probably bought it already. For the rest of you it is worth your consideration. Visit Michael Wood’s website for the book,, to see sample descriptions and photos, as well as name changes (24) and errata (none), and a calendar of talks by the authors.

— Review by Patrick Leacock
— Originally published in Fungi