This field guide provides a glimpse into one of the more curious kingdoms of life: the fungi. Containing the familiar molds, mushrooms, puffballs and the weird creeping oozing cooperative slime molds, the fungi are neither plant nor animal, but they're definitely interesting.
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A Partial Guide
The name of this book, the Field Guide to North American Mushrooms fails to represent the scope of life covered in its pages. Furthermore, the guide only shows the reader what's on top. The fact is that what we call mushrooms are just one part of a much larger organism - in fact, the largest organism alive is a fungus that lives somewhere in Michigan. It covers several acres, but mostly lives underground. Only its mushroom caps are visible above ground, and these appear to be just tiny little living things. Personally, I'd like to know more about the whole fungal body, but this guide doesn't deliver.
This book also doesn't cover anything close to the variety of fungi that someone living in North America might find even in a quick scan of a back yard. It couldn't hope to - there are too many kinds of fungus for any little pocket guide to cover. The reader of this guide needs to be aware of this fact, especially if he or she wants to use it to find "special" 'shrooms, edible or hallucinatory. The fact is that different kinds of mushrooms can look very much alike, and even experts sometimes get them mixed up. In the case of mushrooms, misidentification can have serious, sometimes even fatal, results.
Nonethless, the Audubon Society has done as good a job as anyone could with such a limited format. Limitations aside, this is a pretty thick little book, and it covers a huge number of fungal species, from the many-headed slime to the aromatic milky, from the big laughing gym to the dryad's saddle. If you're curious about a mysterious growth out by your back stoop, you may or may not find it here. If you're just curious about what kinds of eerily fascinating sporing bodies can be found on our continent, however, pick up a copy of this guide. What you'll find inside will open your eyes to another side of life.