“Appalachian Mushrooms: A Field Guide” was released in November by Ohio University Press. Its author, Walt Sturgeon, is a legend in mycology circles. He has been studying mushrooms for more than four decades, and is a treasure-trove of fascinating fungi information.
Sturgeon even has a namesake mushroom: cemetery amanita, Amanita sturgeonii (Page 11 of his book). Consumers of this deadly poisonous fungus could end up in the graveyard. But the name stems from the habitat: open grassy areas such as cemeteries.
Almost everyone who ventures outdoors has had their imagination fired by mushrooms. If conditions are good, they can erupt everywhere, fantastical fleshy creations springing from the soil, old logs, shelving the sides of tree trunks — even arising from dung.
This guide offers an easy way to put a name to the curious fungal oddities we meet, and enables us to learn more about them.
More than 400 species of mushrooms are treated in “Appalachian Mushrooms,” and it does an admirable job of including species that people are most likely to encounter.
Following a brief introduction that discusses what mushrooms are, how to identify them and how to use the book, it’s off to the species accounts.
Before readers even reach the meat of the book, they will be awed by the amazing mushroom photographs, most of which were taken by Sturgeon. Hundreds of images populate the pages, and their detailed richness help set this guide apart.
Each species account occupies its own page, and features one — sometimes more — photograph. Much of the account is devoted to the physical characteristics of the mushroom and how to identify it. Between the descriptive text and images, readers will often be able to pin a name to their mystery mushroom.
Once an identification has been established, users will find the last three sections of the accounts of great interest: ecology, edibility and comments.
In ecology, Sturgeon offers helpful descriptions of the mushroom’s habitat, and frequency, such as abundant, common, uncommon, etc.
Edibility is always of interest to mushroom connoisseurs. When someone asks me “Is it edible?” I usually answer, “Yes. Everything is edible, at least once.” But no one should joke around with the edibility of unknown mushrooms (see the cemetery mushroom, above).
Sturgeon often merely states “not edible.” Heed his advice. In other cases, he notes “unknown.” Don’t eat these, either. For tasty species, he often goes into detail about preparation or the quality of flavor.
Most interesting, to me, is the comments section. Sturgeon’s wealth of knowledge shines in interesting ways. One example: “Reportedly containing psilocybin (hallucinogenic) ... so it is considered an illegal drug in the United States” (yellow gymnopilus, Page 209). Don’t eat that one, either. For flavorful species, such as Sulphur shelf (Page 308), Sturgeon goes into great detail regarding edibility.
“Appalachian Mushrooms” is a must-have book for any outdoors enthusiast or mushroom aficionado. This is one of the most interesting natural history books that I have seen in a long time.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.