CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Southwestern China

2021; Science Press, Beijing
ISBN: 9787030683885
370 pages; Hardcover
$77 (with shipping, total cost to USA was $111)
Purchased from China Scientific Book Service
Language Chinese and English, bilingual

For readers of FUNGI in Southeast Asia (or those hoping to travel to this fungi-rich region), the choices of guidebooks to help you identify any mushrooms you may encounter have been pretty slim up to now. And of the few books available, most are not in English. I recently obtained a copy of a brand new book that proved useful for my own eagerly-awaited myco-trek to the Himalayas of Nepal.

Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Southwestern China was published last year by Science Press (Beijing) and became available only recently. The book is available from China Scientific Book Service and the cost was a modest $77 (but with shipping, the total was $111—still, not bad at all for such a well-made book). I was delighted that they got it to me in about one week or so, which is swifter than some book sources in North America. The text is in Chinese side by side with English, every page, a wonderful feature. The photos are generally very good and usually show in situ shots, but some are “morgue” shots. In my opinion, this book features good coverage of species found throughout Southeast Asia, including southern China and the Himalayas region.

The book covers only common species (at least 300 by my count), but as the title indicates, the focus is mostly on popular edible species as well as notoriously poisonous species. Thus, during our field trial in Nepal, we encountered many common species that were not in the book, for example LBMs, small cups on wood or soil, and others that the everyday person foraging for the dinner table might overlook (but which we were often intrigued and puzzled with). Many basic field guides have historically given short shrift to the polypores and this is the case with this book as very few polypores are featured. (This limitation is noteworthy as we found many polypores in the Himalayas!) For beginners, the book is quite useful, grouping species by fruitbody type, e.g., corals, stinkhorns, boletes, mushrooms with teeth, etc. There are no species keys.

The layout of Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Southwestern China will be familiar to owners of other basic field guides: Chapter 1, Brief introduction to geographic conditions and fungal resources in southwestern China; Chapter 2, Prevention and treatment of mushroom poisoning, including sections on the importance of separating edible mushrooms from poisonous ones, lookalikes, and eight types of mushroom poisoning and treatment guidelines; Chapter 3, Basic terms and key to major groups of mushrooms; Chapter 4, Descriptions and photos of common edible and poisonous mushrooms, featuring sections on Boletes, Agarics, Oyster mushrooms and shelf-like fungi, Thelephores and cauliflower fungi, Stinkhorns (with especially pretty photos), Chanterelles and trumpet fungi, Truffles and puffballs, Polypores, Morels and Helvellas, Coral fungi, Tooth fungi, Jelly fungi and others; References; Index of Chinese names of fungi; and Index of Latin names of fungi.

Overall, Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Southwestern China is a very nice resource for a part of the world where few such books are available. (There are pretty much no books about mushrooms for Nepal.) The book provides good basic information and very nice photos and descriptions of species—having English alongside the Chinese text for each species is a major plus (!); its size allows for it to be used as a guide in the field as well as desk reference. I very much enjoyed the introductory information about the region and notes on the popularity of wild mushroom collecting there. Of course, there is the ever-growing problem of mushroom poisonings in this region. (While we were in Nepal for three weeks, there were several episodes of mushroom poisonings— some fatal.) Many foragers in this part of the world do so for necessity. Folk tales and misinformation persist regarding how to know if a mushroom is safe or not. (We encountered many local foragers in the Himalayas that based edibility on the silver spoon test; many cautioned us in eating the mushrooms there because we were not “adapted” to eating the mushrooms of the region, unlike the locals; etc.) Books with basic information like this new one are sorely needed and will be a welcome addition to scientists, naturalists, and educators in the region.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi