CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada

By Timothy J. Baroni
2017, Timber Press
Flexibound: 599 pages,
600+ color illustrations
ISBN-10: 1604696346
ISBN-13: 978-160-4696349

I’ve long regarded Tim Baroni as a supreme expert with respect to Gymnopus, Leptonias, Inocybes, and their like genera sometimes referred to by prejudicial individuals like me as LBMs. Thus whenever I’ve collected a Conocybe, for example, I’ve sent it to him, and he’s invariably put a name on it.

Not surprisingly, his guidebook Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada devotes 10 pages to Leptonias, 20 pages to Lactarius, and 20 pages to Entolomas, which is a boon to anyone who might be put off by these genera. More good news: it includes lists of synonyms for individual species that rival the lists in Index Fungorum. And the mostly excellent photographs (but why does the photo of Steccherinum ochraceum not show its teeth?) sit happily on the same page as the text, which means you don’t have to rummage around in the index to find either of them. Dr. Baroni also obliges those of us who like to have spore descriptions go beyond simply their size. This is what he says about the spores of Trichopolus jubatus: “angular, colorless, 7-10 by 5.5-7.5 microns, 6-9 angled in side view; cheilocystidida mostly bowling pin shaped, some also clavate or swollen at base with a long tapering neck (lageniform).”

The sections on polypores and ascomycetes reflect, well, Dr. Baroni's preference for fleshy fungi. For one thing, they’re rather short in length. For another, they tend to be a bit haphazard. I suppose it’s amusing to say about Coltricia cinnamomea that it “can be used in dry flower arrangements and toy train settings,” but the reader should also be made aware of the fact that Coltricias are probably among the very few mycorrhizal polypores. With respect to the ascos, Dr. Baroni sometimes errs on seasonality, such as when he writes that Mitrulas can be found from May to September in the Northeast (it’s more like May and June), and Vibrissea truncorum appears between July and September (it’s April to perhaps early July). Yet I suspect that I would be just as prone to quasi-amusing remarks and errors in seasonality if I were to write a book about Leptonias, etc.

I’m less forgiving about the absence of information on northeastern habitats in the book’s front matter. Yes, there are the usual sections on gills versus pores and the necessity of carrying a basket when you venture into the field, but why does Dr. Baroni write that the area covered in his field guide is “roughly that of the eastern hardwood forests of North America?” After all, much of northern New England consists of, primarily, coniferous forests. Neither are such distinctive areas as pine barrens, alpine zones, old growth, spruce forests, and sand dunes mentioned in the front matter, although they’re often alluded to in the species descriptions. Ultimately, I’d like to read about why the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada have a somewhat different range of species from, for example, the Midwest.

Now let’s consider the book’s all important central section. Most of the species descriptions seem to me spot on, though I would contest the use of the word “widespread” to indicate the range of virtually every species. Amanita phalloides is distinctly not widespread in the Northeast, since at least 90% of the time it’s found in a particular urban park in Rochester, New York. As for Psathyrella candolleana, the book says it’s “widespread, but rare.” Rare? In the spring and summer, I seldom walk past any garden mulch in Cambridge, Massachusetts, without seeing this ubiquitous mushroom. But enough negativity!

I especially like the fact that the book’s descriptions commonly indicate smell and taste as diagnostic features, for not all guidebooks give these features enough credit. I also appreciate Dr. Baroni’s not indicating whether or not a species is edible — after all, its edibility or inedibility is (prejudice alert!) probably the least interesting aspect of any fungus. Last but definitely not least, the book’s 64 pages on the Boletaceae provides a better window on this taxonomically mobile family than almost any other guidebook I know.

And now let’s investigate the back matter. I recommend the single page on basic microscopy to those mycophiles who flee at the mere sight of a microscope. The glossary is a model of its kind, defining words like “canescent,” “indusium,” and “mushroom”(!) — i.e., words seldom included in most guidebook glossaries. But the list of “Field Guides Useful for Northeastern Fungi “includes Bill Roody’s Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, yet it somehow manages to omit Mushrooms of Cape Cod and the National Seashore by Bill Neill and the Bessettes, Mushrooms of the Northeast by Teresa Marrone, and (another prejudice alert!) Fascinating Fungi of New England by yours truly. Perhaps Dr. Baroni doesn’t think any of these books are as useful as Bill Roody’s book, but unless I’m greatly mistaken, West Virginia is not a part of the northeastern U.S., much less eastern Canada.

Highly recommended if you need help in identifying a bolete or an LBM. Otherwise, a somewhat mixed bag, but like many a mixed bag, you can draw out gems if you happen to reach in at the right place.

— Review by Lawrence Millman
— Originally published in Fungi