CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushrooms of the Midwest

By Michael Kuo & Andrew S. Methven
2014, University of Illinois Press,
ISBN 978-0-252-07976-4
440 pages, paperback 8 x 10 in.
833 color photographs, $39.95

Michael Kuo, author of Morels and 100 Edible Mushrooms, teamed up with Andy Methven again to produce an excellent identification book for over 500 of the Midwest’s mushrooms. Their previous collaboration, 100 Cool Mushrooms, covered many of their favorite fungi, some of which are seldom illustrated. The Midwest had been neglected in older works dealing with North American fungi. Twenty five years ago, some mushrooms I had documented in Minnesota had eastern distributions described as occurring west to Michigan. Thanks to more recent publications and online resources, such as and, the knowledge of the Midwest’s fungi is growing. My go-to website for checking photos and descriptions or for pasting links for others in FaceBook threads is Michael Kuo’s It is great to have a big chunk of that content concentrated into a very usable book for forays and workshops. This book weighs in at 2 pounds 11 ounces; this is 3 ounces less than Mushrooms Demystified. The 8 x 10 inch size, and just under an inch thick, makes this book manageable to carry in a backpack, or to pull out of the car at the end of a foray.

The book has a good layout with introduction and all the keys in front. The photos are on the same page as the descriptions, mostly two species per page. Some species have two or three images; occasionally microscopic characters are shown. The photos are good and not too small. They are a combination of field photos and studio shots. Color reproduction is good and uniform, though a few of the photos are dark. The end of the book has a 4 page outline of classification and 3 pages of bibliography. The 13 page index with combined glossary is well done. It lists species under both the genus name and the species epithet. The glossary entries include technical to more general terms, for example hardwoods versus conifers. I found there are a few words we take for granted that could be added to any glossary for beginners, e.g., terrestrial, and spermatic (see Kuo’s website for that one).

The first 21 pages of the book span 3 chapters. The introduction covers the importance of amateur mycology, how to use the book, coverage area, Midwestern clubs and recommended mushrooming locations. Chapter 2 describes collection methods, spore prints, making descriptions, odor and taste, chemical reactions, drying, and storing specimens. A list of 16 herbarium locations is given for the 8 states. Chapter 3 covers use of the microscope, techniques, chemicals, spores, making sections, and working with dried specimens. Microscopes are more varied and affordable now and every club should have one. These two chapters are a welcome addition to a mushroom guide and together with the keys make this book very suitable for classes.

Chapter 4 has 58 pages of 18 keys. The first key to groups leads to the other keys, starting with gilled mushrooms divided by spore color and ending with miscellaneous types (bird’s nest, jelly fungi, stinkhorns, and others). The keys are well written and clear. There are two choices at each step (dichotomous), each choice leading to the next step in the key, the next key, or a species name with page number. Chemical reactions are sometimes used to supplement a choice. Microscopic characters are not in the key. As with other guides and keys you should know what the mushroom was growing on, the habitat, and what trees were nearby. The only possible error I see in the keys is the statement on page 65 “KOH black on flesh” for Perenniporia fraxinophila. This is a standard character for the brown fleshed Hymenochaetaceae, not Perenniporia (that I can find). The keys are easy to follow, use simple language, and each choice is concise, from a few words to two or three lines, very similar in style to Mushrooms Demystified (but independent text). The phrase “Not completely as above” is not overused.

Descriptions cover ecology and distribution. I find the phrase “widely distributed” of little use here. The morphology is described including odor and taste where applicable. Chemical reactions and informative microscopic characters add usefulness to the process of identification. Comments may include well known common names. Edibility is only given for the obvious types such as morels, chicken mushroom, and lobster mushroom. Likewise poisonous attributes are given for the dangerous types. Notes on similar species are sometimes restricted to those others described in the book. Readers will have to look elsewhere to find text or descriptions for a genus and some idea of how many species are in a group. This was one of the strengths of David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified, 1986, to give the reader an indication of how many additional species were not in the book. Users of Kuo and Methven wanting to learn more can visit Kuo’s website, www., for fuller coverage of mushroom groups and keys to genera and species. He has been expanding his coverage to species across the continent. The website also has more content on the methods for studying mushrooms.

The book covers 555 species with descriptions and photos, plus 76 other names mentioned in the text. Lichens and slime molds are absent. Many of the species included are found outside the Midwest. The focus of the book is eight states in the Upper Midwest (IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, OH, WI). Some species are at the north, east, or south portions of this region. Only one or two odd inclusions are in the book: Calostoma cinnabarinum, described as being more common at higher elevations, does have one record online from 1906 for Iowa; Catathelasma ventricosum, albeit only included under similar species, has no records I could find for the Midwest. The book does include the Midwest specialty, the leatherneck Paragyrodon sphaerosporus, and the aspen-loving Lactarius controversus. The uncommon but interesting Great Plains species Lactarius villosus would have been a nice addition. The book has better than average coverage of some genera, notably Amanita, Boletes, Cortinarius, Gyromitra, Lactarius, Morchella, Russula, and Volvariella. Thanks to Methven’s studies the book has the up to date names for our Midwest Clavariadelphus americanus and C. unicolor. The book does not have Kuo’s new species Leccinellum quercophilum published in 2013 to replace our Midwest concept of Leccinum griseum or Leccinum carpini.

The species descriptions are arranged alphabetically by genus. This makes it easy to find a name. A nice touch is the species authors spelled out in full rather than with the standard abbreviations. Some taxon names used in the book reflect Kuo’s website versus current usage; most “name changes” are recent within the last 15 years, a very few are not (in 1986 Suillus spraguei replaced the invalid Suillus pictus). The book neglects to give some of the current synonyms though these can be found online ( or But the idea of “current names” is debated and depends on consensus and improved knowledge. We now know that Lycoperdon pyriforme is not related to Morganella, nor is Boletinellus merulioides a Gyrodon, though it may not be a Boletinellus either. Previous books have used the flavor of the year; remember Pluteus atricapillus? Did you know Langermannia could make a comeback? Name changes are part of the young science of mycology, after all Fungi only became its own Kingdom in 1980. It really is okay to use any valid name or synonym that you are comfortable with.

This is one of two books we are recommending to members of our local club. For the beginner in the Upper Midwest there is McFarland and Mueller, 2009, Edible Wild Mushrooms of Illinois and Surrounding States, also by University of Illinois Press. This new book Mushrooms of the Midwest is the logical next step toward the identification of everything else from Abortiporus to Xylaria. It is a no brainer for our club members because more than 80% of the book’s species are recorded in the Chicago Region. Our common fungi absent from the book include such species as Mycena filopes, Perenniporia ohiensis, and the often overlooked Biscogniauxia, Hydnochaete, Irpex, Schizopora, Thelephora, and Xylobolus. Because this book covers a wide range from the hills and cypress of southern Illinois to the boreal forests in the north, other readers may find some familiar or favorite mushrooms that are not included. This is the case for any mushroom guide. There are over ten times more macro-fungi than bird species in North America. Bird guides have all the LBJs and plant guides the DYCs. No book has all the LBMs or JARs or corts, etc.

I strongly recommend this book to those interested in the mushrooms found in the Upper Midwest. It is a useful addition to the library of anyone hunting mushrooms east of the Rocky Mountains.

— Review by Patrick R. Leacock
— Originally published in Fungi