Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mushrooms DeMystified, by David Arora

I like reading nonfiction because I can learn things. Some of my favorite books are obviously labors of love. The Sibley Guide to Birds is a perfect example. And so is David Arora's Mushrooms Demystified. Though too big to be a field guide in the sense of fitting in a pocket, it is there (in the car or, more likely, at home) to consult if I find a fungus I'm not sure about (Mushrooms are fungi.).

Though most Americans (and Brits, too, apparently) are afraid of wild mushrooms, many of the world's people are not. In Russia, there are trains that make runs out to good mushroom hunting areas. Bunches of people go every year.

Mr. Arora explains how to figure out what sort of mushroom you're looking at.

"Fungi can be divided into three categories based on their relationship to their... environment. Parasitic fungi feed on living organisms... Saprophytic fungi subsist on dead or decaying matter... Mycorrhizal fungi... form a symbiotic relationship with the rootlets of plants (mostly trees)... The rootlets provide the fungus with moisture and organic compounds, while the fungus aids the roots in the absorption of phosphorus, inorganic nitrogen, and other minerals, and apparently also provides added resistance to certain diseases."

There's more to it than that, but this and maybe one other guide can get you started, if you pay attention. I've hunted and eaten wild mushrooms for about 25 years. I have never gotten sick, and I've never died from eating them!
I like having more than one field guide -- the more information the better. I recommend Gary Lincoff's National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms especially, because the author tells you about "look-alike" species that might resemble a particular mushroom, and how you can tell the difference.

I know it's a hobby that's not for everybody. But it gets me outside with the wildflowers, the birds, the occasional frog, cicada, the butterflies and moths... Oh yeah.

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