Stinkhorns, puffballs, the "corpse finder," deadly galerina, Satan's bolete, birch conks, black mold, the old man of the woodsthe world of fungi is infinitely varied and not a little weird. Now, in Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard, Nicholas Money introduces readers to a dazzling array of fungi, from brewer's yeast and Penicillium to the highly lethal death cap.
This is an entertaining book that also provides a solid introduction to the biology of fungi as well as much insight into how scientists study fungi in the lab and in the field. Readers will be intrigued by the many exotic fungi discussed. One fungus in Oregon, for instance, covers 2,000 acres and is now considered the world's largest organism. We learn of Madurella, which can erode bones until they look moth-eaten; Cordyceps, which wracks insects with convulsions, kills them, then sends a stalk out of the insect's head to release more infectious spores; and Claviceps, the poisonous ergot fungus, which causes hallucinations (the women charged with "demonic possession" in Salem in 1691 may have been victims of ergot consumption). Money also showcases the lives of famed mycologistsincluding Reginald Buller who wore horse blinders as he walked to work, the better to study luminescent fungi in his dark lab, and Charles Tulasne, the Audubon of fungi, whose illustrations of specimens border on art. And he recounts his own childhood introduction to fungi in Mr. Bloomfield's orchard, where trees and fruit were devoured by a rogue's gallery of bitter rot, canker, rust, powdery mildew, rubbery wood, and scab.
Told with a refreshing sense of humor, Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard will fascinate anyone interested in the natural world.
Nicholas P. Money is wild about mushrooms. "I count myself among the few humans who love fungi, truly, madly, deeply," he writes in Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard, a companionable foray into the realm of stinkhorns, black mold, yeast, and even Malassezia, the dandruff-related fungus that Head & Shoulders shampoo is designed to combat. Money is an English-born mycologist who has spent his life uncovering the secrets and lore of fungi, including varieties that thrive in solid granite, feed on human flesh, assist in crime-scene investigations, and, as in the case of a particular armillaria covering twenty-two hundred acres in Oregon, grow to become the largest organisms on earth.
Of course, the fruiting bodies of various fungi are prized for their epicurean and hallucinogenic properties. In Morel Tales, the sociologist Gary Alan Fine makes an amusing study of the "culture of mushrooming," tagging along with intrepid members of the Minnesota Mycological Society as they perform the "naturework" of plucking such deep-woods delicacies as slippery jacks and bringing them home to sauté. Wild mushrooms, Fine writes, are "culturally mediated objects," and millions of risk-loving Americans now enjoy the weekend thrill of harvesting them.
Peter Jordan's Wild Mushroom is too hefty for your backpack, but perfect for the kitchen. Jordan is a British mushroomer who offers tips on identifying toothsome amethyst deceivers or lethal death caps, recipes for whipping up Hedgehog Mushroom Pancakes or Shaggy Ink Cap Soup, and endless enthusiasm: "Imagine the ultimate triumph of finding your first giant puffball -- its head actually bigger than your own!" (Mark Rozzo)