CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States: A Field Guide to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

By A.E Bessette, A.R. Bessette & D.P. Lewis
2019, University of Texas Press
ISBN: 978-1-4773-1815-7
$39.95; 632 pages; paperback

I love escaping the Midwest to collect mushrooms in the Southeast. But it can be a challenge. There are many familiar species down there but a tremendous number of things very foreign to us in the north. There are a lot of boletes. There are a lot of polypores. And there are a lot of truly strange-looking things too … lots of subtropical and even tropical species as you get closer to the Gulf Coast and into Florida. My previous go-to was Texas Mushrooms by Susan Metzler and Van Metzler, a great book put out in the early 90s by University of Texas Press. It’s still very useful today, with good photos and descriptions, but naturally a few names have been changed in the decades since it was published. Thirty years is a long time with no new treatment for the Gulf Coast since. So when Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States: A Field Guide to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida landed with a loud thump on my desk (it’s a big book!), it was met with great enthusiasm.  

If you already own any of the Bessettes’ mushroom books (and it’s likely you do), Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States will be familiar and easy to navigate. Although bigger … and better, in my opinion, than probably any other mushroom guide book they’ve done to date. The introductory material at the front is very clearly written and informative. There are tips for collecting, cooking, and preserving mushrooms at the back of the book. In between, there are about 600 pages of descriptions and large photos—this is a big book! More details, briefly: the authors include useful keys to each group; the use of microscopic features and chemical color reactions necessary in the identification process is explained; macro characters like habitat, edibility (if known), and odor are given. (Favorite descriptor: "odor of an old mouse nest".) 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 this is pretty familiar to those who have other titles by Bessette & Co.  

The Bessettes tapped David Lewis to co-author this book and I think it was great choice. Lewis is extremely knowledgeable of mushrooms of the Gulf Coast, a longtime scientific advisor to the Gulf States Mycological Society, and has described and named many species; he’s had several species named for him by others. (And David Lewis provided several key photos of poorly known Amanitas from Texas and the Gulf Coast for my own recent book on Amanitas.)  

 In total, Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States has 632 pages and includes coverage of 1,400 of the Gulf Coast’s most common fungi and other mushrooms, plus many less common species (like Macrocybe titans), and quite a few weird things (like Anthracophyllum lateritium); collectively, 650 species are featured with nice color photos. The photos are mostly about a half page each—nicely large—and mostly very sharp and clear. The generous photo size is reminiscent of my longtime favorite book for eastern mushrooms, Mushrooms of West Virginia and Central Appalachians, by Bill Roody. Another similarity (which is my favorite aspect of Roody’s book and that I very much enjoy in Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States): the etymology of all the mushroom names is given, wherein we learn that the weird Boletellus ananas has a cap like a pineapple, Xerocomus sclerotiorum is a weird bolete that produces a sclerotium in leaf litter and soil, Inonotus amplectens is an odd polypore that gets its name from encircling the living twigs of pawpaw trees, and Macrocybe titans … well, you can figure that one out.  

Speaking of names, the authors have done a great job in updating names, even the bewildering number of new names changes that have swept through the boletes. Also helpful, they’ve even included many of the former names to help us mycophiles keep track. (It’s been fun to watch as some species have a new name every time a Bessette et al. book comes out … Pseudomerulius curtisii is one example).  

I can find no faults with Mushrooms of the Gulf Coast States and much to love. In addition to Texas, Florida, and the Gulf Coast, this book will be invaluable to anyone in the Southeast. Highly recommended!

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi