BOOK REVIEW

The Kingfisher Guide to the Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain and Europe.
by David Pegler
pub. Kingfisher Books, 1998
Hardback, 192 pages, 12.99
ISBN 1 85697 156 2

We often hear in the media about the public's new awareness for eating mushroom and fungi, and of groups of mushroom hunters who are in danger of stripping parts of our countryside of their fungi. The problem is that fungi are potentially deadly and, as David Pegler insists in his Introduction: 'You should never experiment unless you are absolutely sure of the identity, and never regard a mushroom as edible unless it is categorically held to be so.' You have been warned.

Pegler's guide makes an extremely valuable contribution to the identification of some 450 species found in Britain and Europe, and 386 of these are described in detail in this small hardback book. At thirteen pounds it's not inexpensive, but the hard cover and narrow page width (about five inches) should make it easy to slip into a coat pocket or rucsac and should provide many years of useful service.

The contents are broken down into ten colour-coded sections covering: Chantarelles; True Mushrooms and Toadstools; Brown-gilled Mushrooms; Brittle-gills and Milk Caps; Boletes and Relatives; Club Fungi and Tooth Fungi; Bracket Fungi; Puffballs, Stinkhorns and Relatives; Jelly Fungi; Cup Fungi and Flask Fungi.

Each of the detailed entries provides an artist's illustration of the species along with text indicating habits, size, season and so on. There is also a 'key' which will quickly help the reader identify whether the specimen in front of them is edible or deadly poisonous. Often the deadly ones identify themselves with violent colours; the bright green Verdigris Toadstool being an example. However, rather innocuous looking species like the Destroying Angel are deadly and potentially mistaken for edible species, while the purplish Amethyst Deceiver and Parrot Toadstool ARE edible. Which all goes to show that you should not be attempting to eat wild fungi unless you know what you are doing.

One advantage this type of illustrated guide has over those which illustrate with photographs is that the artist is able to draw and colour his specimens so that important identification details are properly displayed to the reader.

As indicated this isn't an inexpensive guide, but it is well illustrated and laid out, the illustrations are excellent, and the author is Head of Mycology at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The hardback format of this guide should make its working life quite a long one and a useful investment if you are interested in fungi hunting, and should just about fit in the back pocket of your jeans when out on a fungi hunting field trip.

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