CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Media Review

The Secret Lives of Mushrooms:
An Interactive CD-ROM

By Joel Greene
Flagstaff, Ariz.: Toadstool Workshop, 2002

This CD is difficult to evaluate because it doesn't fit conveniently into any of the usual mushroom book categories (and being a book oriented person, that's my customary frame of reference). It's not a field guide, it's not a coffee table book, it's not a biology-of-fungi book, and it's not a collection of personal anecdotes and stories. It has elements of many of these but combined in a fashion that makes it not immediately obvious who might benefit from or enjoy it most.

The main components include introductory material, fun and games, and descriptions of mushrooms-both basidiomycetes and ascomycetes. It is attractively formatted, and navigation is straightforward. The introductory material includes comments on Greene's fascination with mushrooms and how that developed when he moved to Washington State to attend The Evergreen State College. These are followed by information on the basic of mushrooms, how they are named, where they grow, and what gear to take when hunting them. Most of this will be familiar to anyone who has used field guides. The fun and games section is just what the name suggests: a small selection of games related to mushrooms and trees. For instance, "mushroom roulette" asks you to guess which of the pictured mushrooms is edible.

CD Cover

The majority of the disk is devoted to photos and descriptive comments about a wide range of mushrooms (105 by my unofficial count). The comments draw attention to key features of the mushrooms that would be used to identify them, although they are not intended to provide all the information that might be necessary to do so. Usually more than one photo is provided, and, in many cases, these include short time-lapse "movies" of the development of the mushroom(s). To fully appreciate these, you might need to purchase a plug-in program (it is no longer free, contrary to what the disk says to view them at high resolution. I was content to use the low-resolution version. In many cases the comments also include interesting tidbits about the mushrooms, where they grow, and how they are used. By clicking on an icon adjacent to the mushroom's name, you can hear the name pronounced.

Overall, this CD has a number of good points and a number of not so good points. There are several creative elements in it, such as the time-lapse and including pronunciation of names, a real bugaboo for many mushroom-hunters. The mushroom photos are mostly of good quality, but some are very poor, and some of the other pictures are too dark. The comments convey well the author's enthusiasm and fascination with mushrooms and stress that much can be gained by being curious and observant.

The biology information generally follows what you'd find in a field guide but contains many subtle errors that could have been caught by having the material reviewed by a more experienced mycologist before finalizing it. For instance, a mushroom with a cortina is not necessarily a Cortinarius; it could well belong to Inocybe, Hebeloma, Tricholoma, or several other genera. The suggestion that there are many comprehensive field guides is erroneous: although increasingly field guides are covering smaller areas and more taxa, none can be considered comprehensive. Instead of telling us that mushroom names sound like nonsense, Greene might have taken time to show that they aren't. The time-lapse sequences are a great idea, but they are overdone. Some are quite informative, but after a while they show just another mushroom enlarging and, occasionally, turning to mush. There are many typos, labels that don't fit their buttons, and glitches in links, all signs of too little attention to production details.

Despite its flaws, this is a commendable effort by a young mushroomer with some fine creative ideas. However, he lacked sufficient experience and attention to detail to pull it it off completely. Nonetheless, the price is reasonable, and it would make a nice gift for friends just getting interested in mushrooms or for a mushroom buddy who needs everything fungal.

Available for $18 from Toadstool Workshop, P.O. Box 1853, Flagstaff, AZ 86002

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 46:6, 2003