CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California

By Noah Siegel & Christian Schwarz
2016, Ten Speed Press
ISBN 978-1-60774-817-5
(plasticized paper, 602 pages)

Brief review: Beautiful book. Lots of species. Reasonable price. Buy it.

Long review: Things are continuing to get better and better for identification minded California mushroom hunters … on the book front at least. This new guide from two of North America’s younger field mycologists is the third of three recent books dealing with the mushrooms of the Golden State. Preceding it were Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America (MWNA, with very heavy emphasis on California) by Mike Davis, Bob Sommer, and John Menge (The Mycophile March-April 2013; FUNGI Fall 2012) and California Mushrooms: The Comprehensive Identification Guide (CM) by Dennis Desjardin, Mike Wood, and Fred Stevens (The Mycophile September-October 2015; FUNGI Winter 2015).

Content-wise, Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast (MRC) is a typical field guide. The front matter includes Introduction, What Are Mushrooms? Ecology of Fungi, Humans and Fungi, The Redwood Coast, Trees of the Redwood Coast, Finding Mushrooms, Collecting Mushrooms, Identifying Mushrooms, Making Spore Prints, Tools of the Trade, Making Collections, Photographing Mushrooms, Collecting for the Table, Taxonomy and Cladistics, How to Read the Species Descriptions, and How to Use the Pictorial Key to the Major Sections, all in 16 tiny-font pages. The Pictorial Key to the Major Sections, which follows, comprises an additional six pages. The species treatments and accompanying section descriptions occupy a full 548 pages. They are followed by back matter that includes Acknowledgments, About the Authors, Future Directions, Glossary, Resources for the Mycophile (clubs and websites), Bibliography (fairly extensive), General Index, and Genus and Species Index.

The 25 categories (“Major Sections”) used to group the species treatments are Chanterelles and Gomphoids, Amanita, Lepiota and Allies, Agaricus and Melanophyllum, Dark- Spored Mushrooms, Brown-Spored Decomposers, Mycorrhizal Brown- Spored Mushrooms, Cortinarius, Entoloma and Allies, Pluteus and Allies, Russula and Lactarius, Waxy Caps, The White-Spored Multitude, Pleurotoid Mushrooms, Gilled Bolete Relatives, Boletes, Polypores and Allies, Crust Fungi, Tooth Fungi, Coral and Club Fungi, Puffballs / Earthballs / Earthstars / Stinkhorns / Bird’s Nests, Truffles, Jelly Fungi, Morels / False Morels / Elfin Saddles, and Cup Fungi. While these will probably work fine for those with enough experience for the genus names to be meaningful, the breakdown might prove difficult for those with less experience, and the use of ecological role could prove troublesome to even those with a fair amount of experience, because whether the species is a saprotroph or a mycorrhizal associate isn’t something that is obvious from its outward appearance. Although there is no perfect arrangement, I would have preferred sticking to a strictly macromorphological approach. There are no keys other than the up-front pictorial one, but the authors will be posting keys and other identification resources online at www. The species treatments contain the usual stuff—photo (usually one, but occasionally more), species name with author, common name(s) if it has one or if the authors decided to coin one, descriptions of cap, gills/pores/spines, stipe, partial veil, flesh, odor, taste, KOH reaction, spore deposit color, key microscopic features (usually spore size, shape, and ornamentation and cystidia types), ecology, edibility, and comments. Where appropriate, misapplied names, synonyms, and nomenclatural notes follow. The names are as up-to-date as could be given their rate of change and the time it takes to go from manuscript to printed book, and the comments sections typically are very useful in pointing out key ID features and mentioning similar species.

The photographs are generally wonderful (probably due to Siegel’s “unrivaled” technique and attention to detail). Taken in the field, most are staged documentary portraits with the mushrooms arranged in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Key identification features are shown well and color rendition, sharpness, and lighting typically are excellent. Often a longsectioned fruitbody showing the flesh, or dribbles of KOH to demonstrate a color reaction, are included. Most are cropped very closely, including a number where, unfortunately, stipe bases have been cut off. This makes it easier to see detailed features, albeit with less of a sense for the habitat and relative size of the mushrooms. One can’t have it all.

Quibbles. The strict one or two species per page layout results in a mix of large and small photos. Many of the large (6 × 4 inches) ones are striking, and the size makes it easy to see important identification features. However, the small (2-7/8 × 1-15/16 inches) photos have much less impact and the features are not as easily seen. A “free-flow” layout, such as was used in CM, would have allowed the photos to be of a more uniform size, still large enough to impress and, more importantly, large enough for the features to be readily appreciated. The text is the smallest I can recall having seen in a book and I couldn’t begin to attack it without my reading glasses. Again, one can’t have it all—use of a larger font would no doubt have meant reducing the number of species that could be included. On balance, I support the more-species approach and will just have to make sure the glasses are nearby at all times.

The fact that this is the third of the California mushroom books to come out might lead some to wonder whether Siegel and Schwarz cover any new ground. Indeed they do. Three hundred eighteen of the 768 species they describe and illustrate appear only in MRC (CM and MWNA include 669 and 299 total species, and 207 and 34 “unique” ones, respectively). Taken together, the three books cover an impressive 1046 species, providing California mushroom hunters with a valuable new resource. Although MRC does not often mention the range of the species beyond California, I counted at least 478 species that extend into the Pacific Northwest and so the book will be useful throughout the West Coast, particularly in southern Oregon.

As the final editorial touches were being applied, the publisher asked me to write a blurb for the back cover (apparently I was too wordy and so there wasn’t room to include it) — “California’s north coast is home to the most awe-inspiring forests on Earth. Those who take time to look down from the towering redwoods will find that, as the motto of the North American Mycological Association says, there is also a ‘world of wonder at your feet.’ Accomplished field mycologists/ photographers Siegel and Schwarz have made that colorful and fascinating world accessible through this most excellent new book that will be indispensable for those seeking to know California’s mushrooms.” Beautiful book. Lots of species. Reasonable price. Buy it.

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi