Blood-foot, stinkhorn, and the deadly webcaps are just three oozing, putrid, or poisonous species among the wide array of fungi described in botanist Nicholas P. Money’s vivid new book, Mushroom.
Money delves into the science behind their spore-spewing and hallucinogenic properties, exploring their place in nature and culture. “In more parochial terms, there would be no us without them—humans evolved in ecosystems dependent upon mushrooms, and we would perish without their continual activity,” he writes. The 16,000 known species that sprout from damp patches of forest floor and tree tissue play critical ecological roles as they grow, reproduce, and die, sucking up nutrients and aiding in decomposition.
The book is littered with references to individuals who have made their mark in mycology, clarifying the seemingly mystical properties of fungi, the least studied and understood kingdom of life. Author Beatrix Potter, for instance, used watercolors to make detailed paintings of mushrooms, researching their life cycles and even submitting a paper on her experiments to the Linnean Society.
Money also describes the various ways we depend on mushrooms, as a food source and ingredient in myriad products, including facial cream. Mushroom is a compelling read for anyone with even a tinge of interest in the natural flavor of fungi.
By Nicholas P. Money
Oxford University Press, 201 pages, $24.95