Mushrooms of Cascadia: An Illustrated Key by Michael Beug
314 pages; paperback
5.5 x 8.5”, $29.95 The Fungi Press (Batavia, Illinois) available from Fungi Perfecti
Michael Beug is well known to the North American Mycological Association (NAMA) members but perhaps not as well known to the MSA population. He retired from teaching chemistry at Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington about 10 years ago and now lives on the north side of the Columbia River alley where it cuts through the Cascade Mountains. Beug has provided considerable support to NAMA’s educational program and has been the driving force in maintaining the NAMA Mushroom Poisoning Register, periodically reviewing the most recent cases. In 2014 Beug with the Besettes authored, Ascomycete Fungi of North America, filling a gap in resources on this group. In some ways the current work is an outgrowth of Beug’s long involvement with the Pacific Northwest Key Council, a group of amateur and professional mycologists which has worked on clarifying the region’s macrofungi for 47 years.
Regional guides are sorely needed for all areas in North America. Mushrooms of Cascadia covers the mycologically rich region of the Northwestern United States and adjoining Canada (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, parts of British Columbia, Montana, and California). It includes mention of over 900 species from this area, many not covered by other regional guides. It is designed as an identification tool and does not include complete descriptions. Beug suggests using it with other resources, particularly the regional computer program, Mycomatch (Matchmaker), where one can find complete descriptions. Most of the over 1000 photographs included are by the author, which is an impressive accomplishment.
The unique key is like the approach taken in Ascomycete Fungi of North America. It is predominantly dichotomous but on occasion (“when it seemed appropriate”) branching can take numerous paths at a location. This is indicated by a down arrow at the second and any following “couplets” with the same number. Choices do include an indication of the originating couplet so one can work backwards. All the photographs are mixed in with the key. Many additional species are discussed within final brief entries for an identified species or group of species. When photos of other species mentioned in the entry are available, usually in locations where polychotomies occur, locations are indicated. Large page numbers make it easy to navigate through the book.
Beug has considerable experience in introducing mushrooms to folks at all levels of interest and the information included shows this. This is a very personal book. Reading it is almost like standing there and talking to Michael Beug. The descriptions themselves often include useful and personal tidbits of information not found in other guides. These comments often include nuanced recommendations on consumption (or other use or avoidance). Introductory sections include useful information on a variety of topics such as how to approach the identification process, cooking, preserving, and pickling, and even a couple of Beug’s favorite recipes. A complete glossary of used terms is included at the end.
This resource will be particularly good for those who have already been introduced to the mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest and want a means to identify more species, ways to tell closely related things apart, and useful comments from an expert on toxicity and consumption. Currently (as of 2021) correct scientific names are used and common names are deemphasized although sometimes used for well-known groups like “morels”. The short entries on species often include comments about older nomenclature and the index provides a direction to the proper location using older names.
This book is a valuable addition to resources already available in the PNW, specifically Trudell & Ammirati (2009) Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, the recent MacKinnon and Luther (2021) Mushrooms of British Columbia, and Gibson (version 2.4, 2020) Mycomatch (Matchmaker) computer key for Windows computers.
The longer polychotomies may be confusing for some, particularly because they often span across several pages. Fortunately, most of these include relatively short descriptions so a user doesn’t get too lost in keeping many separate complex diagnoses in mind. We will have to see how well this works for new mushroomers. In some cases, I think a beginner may not be able to easily separate between groups in some of the longer polychotomies. For instance, in separating the Agarics by spore print color, the distinguishing descriptions are not complete enough for a neophyte to decide which color is correct. Another odd feature of the book is the use of a single numbering sequence across the entire book: The key choices are numbered from 1a,b; then 2a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h; 3a,b,c,d,e; etc. through 414a,b,c,d,e,f,g. I suppose this makes each location in the book distinct, but the overall structure must be hard to edit. I see no reason not to have separate numbering systems for each of the many major group key areas. Although the photos are small, usually they have been cropped to show the important features and the color reproduction is good. Short headers on the pages would have been helpful where larger groups are further separated; some may put in tabs to these pages. Headers would allow users to review the features that separate each group.
I am looking forward to using this resource in introducing mushrooms to beginners. It includes the kinds of information that should allow them to reach correct identifications of most species combined with the use of other guides to verify their identifications. I welcome the cautious approach to additional information on edibility and toxicity.
Fred Rhoades, Retired Professor
Western Washington State University
Bellingham, WA 98225 firstname.lastname@example.org