CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America

By R.M. Davis, R. Sommer, & J.A. Menge

California Natural History Guides, 106
University of California Press; 2012
472 pages, 4 1/2” X 7 1/4”,
353 color illustrations, 6 line illustrations, 3 tables
ISBN: 978-0-520-27107-4 $70 cloth;
ISBN: 978-0-520-27108-1 $26.95 paper

I have the good fortune to be able to spend about as much time in western forests as I do in those of the Midwest (this, despite living in Wisconsin). Flights are frequent and inexpensive (compared to fares charged a couple of decades ago). In fact, about the only challenge for me is in deciding what field guide to bring. Of course Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified (“MD”) has long been the bible of western mushrooms, with a focus on California species. But it’s enormous and not practical to carry in a jacket pocket. Plus, at around three and a quarter pounds, it’s not the most effective use of the 50 pound limit of a checked suitcase. The relatively new Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest by Trudell and Ammirati is excellent for the Pacific Northwest but doesn’t cover all the common species to the south (California is a huge region, after all). MD is better for California, there are many nice keys, but the mostly black and white photos are not terribly helpful. Lone Pine’s Mushrooms of Western Canada (by Helene Schalkwijk-Barendsen) is very good and has gorgeous water color illustrations of many species, but I find good, descriptive photographs to be more helpful than illustrations in many situations.

If only there was another option. And now there is! The University of California Press has just released #106 in its series of Natural History Guides: Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America. There are several excellent titles in this series, including Field Guide to Plant Galls (see below). Mushrooms of Western North America is very well-designed and features a great deal of concise information arranged in a very user-friendly way. The authors (Davis, a professor of Plant Pathology at UC-Davis; Sommer, a professor emeritus from UC-Davis; and Menge, an emeritus professor of plant pathology at UC-Riverside) are well-known among the mycophilic community on the West Coast. Bob Sommer is an active member of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, well-known water colorist and long time contributor to a column on “Easy Edibles” for Mushroom the Journal. Mushrooms of Western North America depicts most mushrooms one is likely to encounter in the West with 353 good quality color photos; within the description of any given species, lookalikes are also listed with ways to distinguish (and page number where each lookalike is to be found is right there next to the name). Not having to go to the index to look up page numbers for every lookalike is a very helpful feature. Another good idea is listing alternate or synonymous names for nearly every species—essential nowadays with our names in a state of near constant flux. Further to this point, there is a lengthy table at the end of the book with a list of scientific names used in this book and synonyms, changes, and misapplied names. Another handy table lists genera of mushrooms, grouped by spore color—I don’t know why more books don’t feature such a quick reference. Other reasons to love this book include a section on mushrooms and art; included are mushroom spore ink and paint making, spore printing for displays, plus dyeing with mushrooms—a popular niche on the West Coast. Many of the groups are given nice keys too, making this useful to beginners and more advanced mycologists. All considered, Mushrooms of Western North America surely will now become THE standard field guide to the mushrooms of California and the West Coast.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi