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Mushrooms of North America Paperback – April, 1991

4.7 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Paperback, April, 1991
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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excerpt from the Introduction

In August 1983, I set off to North America with my wife, Nicky, and our daughter, Phoebe, then only seven months old. Our first American outing was the Eighth Annual Northeastern Mycological Foray, to which we'd been invited by Dick Homola. For us, it was a culture shock. Things are very different across the water; in Britain, our annual mycological society foray is much more of an academic affair, with Latin rather than English serving as the official language. However, we soon changed gear and adapted to the lively and entertaining style of a weekend on an American campus, including Phoebe, who quickly learned to crawl in the woods along a county road near Bangor, Maine.

The study of mushrooms in North America is both ahead and behind the European science of mycology. There are many excellent American monographs of genera, almost all of them co-authored by Alexander H. Smith, whose truly herculean volume of work demonstrates the enormous energy he invested in his lifetime's study. Indeed, there are a greater number of modern American monographs available than there are monographs of European genera. In Europe, on the other hand, there are three exceedingly good books that deal with the larger subject of the Agaric Flora in its entirety: Flore Analytique des Champignons Supérieurs by Kühner and Romagnesi; Keys to Agarics and Boleti by Meinhard Moser; and The Check List of British and Irish Basidiomycota by N.W. Legion and A. Henrici et al.

After traveling all over North America and seeing firsthand the great diversity of its tree species and the sheer range of its climate and habitat, from swamps, forests and deserts to the high Rockies, I realized that the flora would prove to be far larger than that found in Europe. In his lifetime, Smith himself speculated that no more than two-thirds of North American species had been described. Despite the work of the many excellent mycologists in the post-Smith era, I suspect his statement is probably still true. This makes mycology in North America a most exciting subject; there is so much important and original work to be done in pushing forward the boundaries of science. To take just one group, the underground agarics that can be found in the dry western climate: in Europe, such things are almost unknown, yet in America, there are dozens of species, making it a most fascinating area of study. American mycologists are now also working on the underground flora of the Australian deserts.

What is a mushroom?

Fungi are a very large class of organisms and have a structure that can be compared to plants, but they lack chlorophyll and are thus unable to build the carbon compounds essential to life. Instead, in the same way that animals do, they draw their sustenance ready-made from living or dead plants, or even animals. A mushroom is the reproductive part (known as the fruit body) of the fungus organism, and it develops to form and distribute the spores.

A fungus begins as minute, hair-like filaments called hyphae. The hyphae develop into a fine, cobweb-like net that spreads through the material from which the fungus obtains its nutrition. This net is known as the mycelium. Mycelium is extremely fine and in most cases cannot be seen without the use of a microscope. In other cases, the hyphae bind together to make a thicker mat (tomentum) that can readily be observed. To produce a fruiting body, two mycelia of the same species band together in the equivalent of a sexual stage. Then, if the conditions of nutrition, humidity, temperature and light are met, a fruit body will be formed.

The larger fungi are divided into two distinct groups: The spore droppers, Basidiomycetes (pp. 16- 359). In this group, the spores are developed on the outside of a series of specialized, club-shaped cells (basidia), which form on the gills, spines, tubes, or other spore-bearing surfaces. As they mature, they fall from the basidia and are normally distributed by wind. Most of the fungi in this book are of this kind, including the gilled agarics, the boletes, the polypores, and the jelly fungi.

The spore shooters, Ascomycetes, (pp. 360- 379). The spores in this group are formed within flask-shaped sacs (asci). When the spores have matured, they are shot out through the tips of the asci. The morels, cup fungi, and truffles are in this group.

How to use this book

Mushrooms and fungi are a large and very diverse group of organisms, and although this book only deals with the larger forms, there is nevertheless a bewildering selection from which to choose. If you are just beginning to learn about mushrooms, leaf through these pages to get a general feel for the diversity of species that are illustrated. The next step in making an identification is to refer to the pictures for beginners (pp. 10-12). These will introduce you to the general features of the most common genera. The generic keys (p. 13) may be too difficult for a beginner.

Positively identifying a collection of mushrooms is a very tricky business, even for an expert, and if you plan to eat some of the specimens you collect, you must be absolutely positive about your identification before doing so. With this book, you can check the illustrations against your samples, but no book will ever be able to give you the experience you need to be certain. If you want to learn about mushrooms, the only sensible strategy is to go out collecting with experts, listen to what they have to tell you, question them about everything that you can think of, and use a book to cross-check.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

In this beautifully illustrated book, Phillips vividly presents the world of mushrooms. Unlike the photographs in other guides, which are taken in the field, the more than 1000 color photographs featured here were shot in the studio in order to capture both the external features of mushrooms as well as their internal anatomy. Each picture includes specimens representing various stages of growth, and the accompanying annotation describes the anatomy of the cap, gills, stem, and spores. In addition, the author explains where the particular species of mushroom is found, its season of growth, and whether or not it is edible. Amateur mycologists as well as professionals in the field will find this book an invaluable guide. Highly recommended as a basic library reference source.
- Paul C. Radich, Univ. of Indianapolis
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (P); 1St Edition edition (April 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316706132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316706131
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8.5 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ealovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Our yard, which is surrounded by swamps and a pine barren, is a haven for mushrooms: bright yellow ones that look like curdled egg yolk; morels in the spring (yummy); groups of flat-headed, long-stemmed mushrooms with black gills that turn into an inky sludge overnight (if you step into the sludge you're doomed), and shelves of multicolored fungi that grow on dead trees.

I figured it was time to consult a book on mushrooms, and this one is a doozy. "Mushrooms of North America" has over a thousand color photographs of mushrooms, along with detailed descriptions of its subjects.

The explanatory paragraphs include a description of the mushroom's cap, gills, stem, veil, and flesh. There is also information on the mushroom's odor, taste, spores, and habitat (including the season when it can be found). Additional comments are included on important matters such as edibility.

The introduction has directions on how to use this book. Novice mycologists like me are supposed start at the two-page "Beginner's Key" that illustrates some of the most common groups (genera) of mushrooms. So, let me go out and collect a mushroom and see if I can identify it from the "Beginner's Key"...

Unfortunately, my mushroom doesn't look like anything in the "Beginner's Key" but I have learned two things: (1) I need to collect the base of the mushroom in order to completely identify it. I can't just break the mushroom off at ground level; (2) spore color is an important identification key.

This book has directions on how to collect spores, but for the impatient it may be possible to scan through all thousand photographs and get a hit without waiting overnight for the spores to show up, which is what I did.
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Format: Hardcover
On the plus side, this book exhaustively presents lots of species, including quite a few not covered in other popular guides, and in general, the photos are very good in all respects save one: the color accuracy. It appears that there has been little or no attempt to use color management when it came time to reproduce the photos. It appears that the mushrooms were all photographed in-studio rather than in the field, against a gray background. To appreciate how much the color reproduction varies, just look at the gray background in each photo, and you'll see just how off the color really is.

Other than that, I'd give the book 5 stars, but accurate color is very important in a book like this, so I give it 3 stars.
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Format: Paperback
I have been a mushroom enthusiast for years now, but when I was given this fine book for my birthday, my excitement was doubled. The endless, clear, complete photos give all phases of the fungi you could find in the wild, not just a single photo or drawing. The written information is complete and easy to read. The glossary is amazing.The photos are so lovely you'd be proud to have them hanging in your house! The only drawback is it's too large to take into the field, but I always have it waiting for fast and certain identification at the end of a day.This is a "can't do without it" book for the mushroom hunter. His book on European mushrooms is equally fine.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent to keep in the car during forays and cross reference with mushroom field guides. The pictures are almost 3 dimensional and most of them show the various stages of the fruit bodies. The photos also show with clarity, every part of the mushroom in detail in their true colors and variations. This affordable reissue of this highly regarded tome caused quite a clamor in my mycolgist club.
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Format: Hardcover
To date this is the BEST 'mushroom identification book' that I own. I have used this book for the last 17 years and it has not let me down save for a couple of instances. I have the 1991 paperback edition that is quite easy to tug along on vacation, field trips, and back yards. Yes, the size makes it a tad inconvenient on long trips but having large, clear pictures and the identification points on the same or the page next to the picture makes rapid identification a lot easier. So in my opinion this more than makes up for the large size problem.

The author does state that for an accurate identification the ENTIRE specimen should be uprooted to use the base, spore colors etc as identifying points. Please be aware that in many parks and private property areas uprooting specimens is prohibited except by permission.

The pictures are quite clear and the author has identification keys that make the text very easy to follow. There are a couple of issues that I wish were fixed. First, the pictures are not taken in the field but in a studio with a bluish grey background. This helps because ALL parts of the mushroom are clearly visible but the background used diffues the color scheme of the specimen. In most cases this is no big deal I was easily able to identify specimens but in some cases I was led down the wrong path. Secondly, the key does not contain all specimens but that is understandable.

All in all I am very happy that I chanced upon this book in 1991. It has served me well all these years. In fact just this morning while working on my sprinkler heads I used this book to identify a specimen I had not seen before. I have checked out the new edition which is in hardback but I prefer my old reliable companion so I'll just keep it.
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