Book Review: Amanitas of North America

Published by Cori VanGalder on

Book Review: Amanitas of North America

Bunyard, Britt and Jay Justice 2020. Amanitas of North America. ISBN-13: 978-0-578-67572-5, hbk. The FUNGI Press, PO Box 98, Batavia, Illinois 60510-9998, U.S.A. Orders: Cover price $60 but discounted at $50 on website. 340 pp., 120 color photos, glossary, bibliography, index, 10″ × 8.5″.

I was fortunate to be the first person to purchase the book Amanitas of North America, which I had planned to enjoy reading and add to my collection of mycology texts in my home library. I expected a book with wonderful images and taxonomic content and nothing more. Perhaps there was more advertised, but I had not made any assumptions about its content. Having worked for many wonderful years on the Amanitaceae, under the mentorship of Dr. Rodham E. Tulloss, I was excited to see what kind of book this was. I was fully aware of the great undertaking this must have been in order to present the reader with the most notable Amanita species of North America. Knowing the dedication of the authors to the genus Amanita, I had high hopes for this book.

I received my copy in the mail and immediately was taken back by its weight and size. This is not a quaint pocket-size field guide, although it is worth keeping close by while foraging. It is clear from the start that much thought went into the design and development of this book. First, it has a pleasing, eye-catching cover design consisting of a black glossy hardback with wonderful contrasting color images. Because it is such a lovely book, it has become a piece to show off in my home with a permanent spot on my living room coffee table. But what about its content? As I sat with my copy of this book for the first time, I began by quickly skimming through the pages, noticing the quality and texture of the paper, and realizing there was as much text as color images, photographs, and drawings. This was clearly much more than just a list of species and images to go with it. My interest was piqued.

As I read through the pages, now slowing down and starting from the beginning, it was hard to put down. I felt like I was back in New Jersey, working alongside Dr. Tulloss and hearing him tell me endless stories about Amanita. Amanitas of North America is a treasure trove of information that covers the gamut of science, mycophagy, history, foraging, lore, and obviously the taxonomy of the species themselves. The manner in which this information is provided was so well thought out that this book will not only be of interest to mycologists or mushroom enthusiasts, but also, to someone diving into this genus for the first time. It provides a carefully laid-out road map of all things Amanita.

One can quickly get an idea of the number of species included in this text by skimming through the index. A complete alphabetical listing of the species includes all the pages where the  species in question is mentioned, even if just in passing. The species are organized into subgenera and sections following the usage of Dr. Cornelis Bas with an additional key at the beginning of each section. The usage of sections is one of the most valuable tools when learning to identify amanitas, as these groupings are not simply an artificial tool. Instead, they represent the evolutionary relationships among species, which means that the shared characters within each section begin to demonstrate a broad scientifically significant picture. This will become a most important tool for the novice or the expert.  The species descriptions focus on the macroscopic features but also include spore size and shape, which is required to positively identify a mushroom. The photographs that accompany these descriptions are stunning in quality but also mindful in showing the characters needed for their identification. The descriptions start with general information on the species themselves–habitat, associated trees, even odor and edibility. One fantastic feature is that it also points out the most likely look-alikes, which can confound any fungal forager, and explains how to tell them apart. Special care is taken to point out the dangers of ingesting species of this genus, not only with an important word of caution at the beginning of the book, but also throughout the species descriptions (when pertinent) and in the section dedicated to toxicology.

I was happily surprised to see the authors also included several pages dedicated to Limacella–the lesser-known genus of the Amanitaceae–and to the known diseases/parasites that change the morphology of mushrooms, some Amanita-specific, all including wonderful photographs.

This book can easily serve as a beginner’s guide to Amanita, but to anyone already proficient in the genus or family, it also provides an in-depth look on topics that are relevant to Amanita and fascinating to learn about. It is collection of as much information as one could fit in a reasonably sized book. If you have the opportunity to acquire this book, what I hope will be apparent to the reader is that, not only was there great care expended in the creating of this book, it also captures the efforts and knowledge of many scientists and naturalists, past and present, passed down from generation to generation, to give us a rich picture of what we know about Amanita today.

Cristina Rodriguez-Caycedo, Research Associate
Department of Molecular Biology
UTSW Medical Center
Dallas, TX

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