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Exploring the magical world of mushrooms

Mushroom hunters have been swarming lately through the woodlands across southwest Ohio. They are in quest of morels, the elusive edible mushrooms that pop up for just a few weeks during the spring.

There are hundreds of different kinds of mushrooms that grow in Ohio and throughout the midwest. Most of them are not edible but they are certainly fascinating to look at. If you are interested in finding out more about them there’s an excellent new illustrated guide available called “Mushrooms of the Midwest.”

It was written by Michael Kuo, the man behind the website He’s also the author of another book, “100 Edible Mushrooms and Morels.” His co-author Andrew S. Methven is a mycologist, an authority on mushrooms. This is the second book they have written together. The previous one was “100 Cool Mushrooms.”

This large format book has color photos and descriptions of 557 different types of mushrooms that grow here in the midwest. The authors note however that even with this guide “that mushroom identification can be difficult, very technical, and sometimes impossible.”

The unidentifiable mushroom you could discover may actually be unknown to science. The authors note that if that is the case “it may be even more important to collect, document and preserve it.” This guide explains how to go about doing that.

Perhaps you are wondering how some varieties could still be unknown?

The authors explain that “this is a hard nut to swallow for those who have used field guides to identify trees or birds for example, and expect the mushroom world to be equally easy to penetrate. One doesn’t need a microscope to identify a North American tree, and plenty of field guides can be found that include more or less all the tree species native to the continent.”

This could become a thrilling challenge-when it comes to mushrooms we are still finding new varieties because nobody actually “knows how many mushroom species there are on the continent.” On the front cover of the book there’s a photo of those familiar, delectable morels. Inside the book you’ll find many fungi that are totally unfamiliar.

I have a friend who helps me positively identify edible mushrooms found in my yard. He showed me some Coprinus Comatus, nicknamed “shaggy manes.” They are delicious if you can find them in the button stage. He also found some Laetiporus Sulphureus.” These grow during the summer in large clusters upon oak trees. When young and fresh they can be savory if cooked thoroughly. They are often called the “chicken of the woods.”

Mushrooms feed the vibrant life cycles within our forests. The guide cites this example: “this fungus is one of the most prevalent and important decomposers in coniferous forests, producing brown rot residues that are essential to soils.”

“Mushrooms of the Midwest” piqued this reviewer’s interest in mycology.

The next time we’re hiking through the woods I’ll bring along this guide so I can try to identify the fungi we encounter. Who knows, we might discover a previously unknown variety? Let’s see, perhaps they will name it Amanita Mickuni? It will probably be poisonous but I do like the sound of it.

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