CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Tricholomas of North America:
A Mushroom Field Guide

By Alan E. Bessette, Arleen R. Bessette, William C. Roody, & Steven A. Trudell
University of Texas Press; 2013
ISBN-10: 0292742339;
ISBN-13: 978-0292742338/220 pp.
Dimensions: 9.8 x 7 x 0.8 inches
$29.95 (paperback)

The genus Tricholoma is a frustration for most mycophiles and mushroom hunters (including this author). The group is a large one with more than 100 species recognized in North America. And depending on where you live, the fall of the year can offer a bewildering number of species emerging from the forest floor in shades of brown, or gray, or white. Tricholomas, as a group, are familiar to just about everyone—they’re mostly large and obvious. But how to determine one species from another is a separate matter. A common complaint with fieldguides is that there are never very many species of Tricholoma offered. And because a given species can be quite variable in appearance (color, size, texture) depending on time of year and environmental conditions etc., a guidebook photo and description is often of limited use.

Tricholomas of North America: A Mushroom Field Guide by Bessette et al. changes all that. Another book by the Bessettes and company? Yes! Alan Bessette and others have paraded out several titles on various groups of mushrooms in the past few years and in my opinion each one improves on the previous. I think Tricholomas of North America is easily their best effort.

Alan E. Bessette’s is a name well-known to most North American mycophiles. He is a mycologist and distinguished emeritus Professor of Biology from Syracuse University. Bessette has published numerous professional papers in the field of mycology and has authored more than twenty books, several just in the past few years. The co-authors are just as well known. Arleen R. Bessette has authored or coauthored several books on mushrooms and teaches classes on mycology and the culinary aspects of mycophagy. William C. Roody is a Wildlife Diversity Biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. He has authored or coauthored several books on mushrooms and other macrofungi, including my personal favorite for eastern species: Mushrooms of West Virginia and Central Appalachians. Steven A. Trudell, of the University of Washington, is the coauthor of Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, my personal go-to for mushrooms of the PNW.

While being listed on the cover as a “field guide,” Tricholomas of North America is much larger (in breadth and dimensions) and more comprehensive than a mushroom fieldguide. It contains more than 170 excellent photographs of species, often with more than one image of a species to illustrate the dramatic variation exhibited by many Tricholomas - an excellent feature afforded by the nicely large page size. Likewise, I appreciate the large photo sizes, with dimensions of most around 4 x 5 inches or larger. (I felt this was one of the strongest points of the 2012 Bessette et al. Waxcaps of Eastern North America.) And unlike the much higher priced Waxcaps book, Tricholomas of North America is published in paperback form and more affordably priced (while the cover price is $29.95, as of this writing Amazon is offering it for $19.95).

Additional impressions on Tricholomas of North America are all very positive in this reviewer’s mind. If you rely mostly (or entirely) on macroscopic features—those you can see while simply holding the mushroom in your hand— this book is definitely for you. There is mention of microscopic characteristics, but the very useful keys to identifying the species are pretty much based on macro characters. Indeed the key begins with grouping by mushroom color and whether it was found east of the Rocky Mountains or Rockies to the West Coast. The species descriptions provide extensive identification information including scientific and common names, macroscopic and microscopic features, occurrence/habit, edibility, and a comment section that addresses such things as synonomy, comparisons with similar species, good explanations of species epithets, and other useful or interesting information. In addition, the authors provide a general introduction to Tricholomas that discusses identification features, ecology, simple chemical tests (for identification), and how to use the keys provided in this book.

Get this book. You will use it and come to know (and maybe even appreciate) the Trichs more. The layout, look, dimensions, scope, and affordable price of this book make it an absolute home run. Kudos to Bessette and Company, and to the University of Texas Press for a job well done.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi