Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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
- Paul C. Radich, Univ. of Indianapolis
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.