Peanut butter cup, stinky squid, ceramic parchment, scrambled eggs slime, blushing bracket—don’t be ashamed if you haven’t heard of these remarkable organisms. They are among the taxa described in this wonderful new book on fungi and slime molds, species ranging from the flamboyant to the nearly repulsive.
Every botanist needs at least a passing acquaintance with fungi. We often field questions from the public about mushrooms. It’s an inevitable part of our botanical lives. Answers are expected. This is particularly true today on social media platforms. I once had the uncomfortable experience of being sent a low-resolution photograph of a mushroom and then asked “Can I eat this?” Naturally, I replied in the negative even though I couldn’t identify the fungus in question. Four hundred and fifty species in 24 genera are covered in the volume. Although the title promises “mushrooms,” many other fungi are included as well, such as black knot, coral fungi, bracket fungi, and earthstars. Eleven species of slime molds also are treated. The 54-page introduction to the body of the book is required reading for anyone wishing to learn the basic of mycology. These pages are written for novices as well as botanist only mildly familiar with the intricacies of fungal classification, morphology, and reproduction. The introduction is loaded with wonderful illustrations, making it a pictorial primer. Though nominally restricted to the Georgia Piedmont and Appalachians, this book will be helpful in adjacent areas as well. It’s weight, six pounds, precludes its being used in the field. Fortunately, there’s a fine section on how to collect fungal specimens.
Fungal taxonomy and nomenclature are nearly as complicated as fungal reproduction. The authors tackle this vexed subject in a sensible and understandable fashion. The book seems up-to-date in its scholarship on these matters. As an example, the thorough description of the American brown truffle, Tuber lyonii Butters, occupies a bit more than two full pages with four illustrations. There follows is a key to the genus Tuber in the Southeastern United States and an excellent discussion of four other species of the genus complete with references.
Fungi needn’t take a backseat to cacti, orchids, or any flowering plant in aesthetic appeal. The authors state that the photographs portray the reality of the subject and are not “glamor shots.” One would scarcely know that. In a word, the illustrations are gorgeous. It’s a delight to leaf through the pages.
Toxicity and edibility occupy a significant amount of space in this book, as one would expect. The authors’ comments are cautious and commendable. The subject is not sensationalized and is treated scientifically. They sensibly remind us all that “Every mushroom is edible—Once.” All in all, this is a satisfying and most useful addition to the bookshelf of any botanist in the Southeast, amateur or professional.