There is much evidence to suggest that interest in fungi is greater than it has ever been. This is partly due to many claims (some dubious to say the least) about medicinal benefits, an increased taste for wild mushrooms as a culinary item, foraging has become a favoured weekend pastime in some quarters, but I think that more fundamentally people are interested in these organisms from pure intellectual curiosity. As we mourn the loss of diversity on the planet, and start to be unnerved by species depletion, the urge to understand the inter-relationship between all the organisms of field and forest is heightened.
This little handbook produced by Princeton University Press and authored by renowned mycologist Lawrence Millman, is a sort of "all you ever wanted to know about mushrooms" work; and fascinating and helpful it is too.
Whether you are interested in the biology of fungi, or the rich and often fanciful folklore often associated with mushrooms, you will find coverage of all these aspects in this book. You will perhaps be astounded by the famous names throughout history who have had intimate relationship with these lowly and often overlooked denizens of healthy ecosystems.
Throughout, the book is illustrated with wonderful line drawings by Amy Jean Porter, a delightful accompaniment to the text.
This is a book you might be tempted to keep on the shelf, but I would encourage you to take it with you in the field. Whether you are a birder, a botanist, a lepidopterist, a plant biologist or someone who follows another discipline in nature, you will encounter fungi, and doubtless your curiosity will be aroused.
You can quickly get some rudimentary information from this work, you probably already own a field guide, and there is an excellent selection of useful references at the end of the book. It slips easily into a pocket and is not heavy.
Most people are familiar with the mycorrhizal function of fungi, vital to the existence of many trees and other plants, but there are countless other ways fungi interact with host organisms, in commensalism or mutualism, as predators or as prey. They are a keystone species in many integrated food networks.
Millman's writing style is quite whimsical, and at times nothing short of entertaining. As he says about a walk in the woods in search of fungi, who can remain immune from the variety of shapes such as tongues, ears, erect phalluses, corals, teeth, birds nests and orange peels? And since fewer than 5% of all fungi species have been described, there is always a chance of finding something new to science.
If that doesn't set you off in search of fungi I don't know what will!
Fungipedia: A Brief Compendium of Mushroom Lore
Hardcover - $16.95 - 9780691194721 - 208 pages - 4 1/2" x 6 3/4" - 51 b/w illustrations
Publication date: 29 October 2019