Review: Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast by Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz

mushrooms-of-the-coastA rare Five Star review. I almost never give these out.

I grew up spending much of my summers in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota. We would camp for a month or two (I was raised by a single mother, who was broke).  One of the memories I have is the entire car filled from back to front with opened/flattened brown paper bags, covered in sliced mushrooms that my mother would dry. My mother could identify hundreds of mushrooms almost instantly and given her European upbringing (until she escaped from Czechoslovakia as a teen) it is not surprising she used the genus and species names, not just the common name.

One of her favorite books was The Mushroom Hunter’s Field Guide, by Alexander H. Smith. His first edition was in 1958 and while the authors credit David Arora with the term LBMs (Little Brown Mushrooms) for those hard to identify, small brown mushrooms, I would note that the term was already in use in this now old guide, which has been updated a number of times, with better and better photographs. I use Dr. Smith’s field guide as my standard that I hold other books up to. Dr. Smith, whose education and contribution to the field is hard to beat, even though he died in 1986.

While I am not an expert, I do enjoy picking and eating wild mushrooms. I have lived on the East Coast, Minnesota, Washington State, and now Northern California. This new book by Siegel and Schwarz is ostensibly focused on Northern California.

Let me start with what is great about this book and obviously why it was done. The photography is beautiful and extensive. It is rare to find a mushroom book with so many photographs and at a reasonable price. One thing that Dr. Smith’s field guides did was put in the photo caption the relationship between the real size and the photo. While not crucial when the description has measurements, it is still a nice touch that I wish this guide from Siegel and Schwarz had. Both Smith’s book and Siegel and Schwarz’s book give the microscopy of the spores, which is important.

When scanning the entry to Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric, or Fly Mushroom), I was mildly surprised that Siegel and Schwarz did not mention where the term “fly mushroom” came from. One can take the cap of the fly mushroom, put it in a saucer with some milk in it, and catch flies with it (they die). While the technique suggested in the Siegel and Schwarz guide for making the mushroom edible (multiple boils) works, I would suggest to the readers that they still avoid eating the mushroom.

I skip to some of my favorite mushrooms. I found the Morel section to be a bit brief. Given their popularity, I would have included more photos of the various species.

I do think that the photos of the mushrooms sliced in half is a great addition to a field guide. Very few guides that I have, or have perused, have this. I only wish this was done for more of the mushrooms,but it was done quite often and very nice.

The discussion on Inky Caps, on the tendency to grow in polluted areas and the ability to wick those toxins into the mushroom is worth not just mentioning for these urban mushrooms, but for all mushrooms. Our world is growing polluted. Mushrooms wick up toxins. Be aware of this. There were cautions in the Black Forest of Germany some years ago, due to toxins and heavy metals.

I like that there are two indices: a general index and an genus/species index. I would have liked the two to be cleanly separated and easy to jump to, but that is a trivial complaint.

Really, this is a great book and there is very little to criticize. I wish for a few more photos of cut mushrooms (like the false Chanterelle ) and a few more photos and discussion of Morels, but these are super nit-picky things.

I am excited to add this to my field guide collection. It is one of my rare “five star” reviews.  I would note that these sorts of field guides are the type of book that can only be in hard copy, not in a ebook format (or not and be useful).

I received a copy for review.





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