CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushrooms of Hawai'i: an identification guide

By Don E. Hemmes & Dennis E. Desjardin
Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. 224 p. 2002.
ISBN 978-1580083393 (paper)


During times when there is a dearth of good new mushroom books, it is a pleasure to peruse the fine new book by Don E. Hemmes and Dennis E. Desjardin, Mushrooms of Hawai'i: an identification guide. Dr. Hemmes is professor of biology at the University of Hawai'i in Hilo and Dr. Desjardin is professor of biology at San Francisco State University and scientific advisor for the Mycological Society of San Francisco.

A research project funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation formed the basis of Desjardin & Hemmes' knowledge of the mycota of Hawaiian Islands. Before this project, relatively little was known about the mushrooms and other macrofungi of Hawai'i. The project nearly tripled the number of known mushroom species in Hawai'i. For some information on the research project see:

After publishing the requisite research papers in the mycological journals, it became apparent to the authors that their knowledge could also be turned into a field guide to Hawaiian mushrooms. It is to our benefit that this was done.

The book begins with some of the "what are fungi" type of introductory material so common in mushroom field guides. This is soon supplemented with interesting information on the history of mycology in Hawai'i, the seasons of Hawaiian mushrooms, and the authors' favorite Hawaiian collecting sites. Next there is a chapter on identifying mushrooms. Not enough information on identification techniques to really do it, but a nice introduction for the armchair adventurer.

Sample Page

At the core of the book are the descriptions of more than 230 mushroom species. These are grouped in 16 habitats ("vegetation zones"), such as "compost piles and wood chips", "coastal Casuarina forests", "arid leeward montane habitats" and "wet montane native rainforests". Each habitat is prefaced by a short description of that vegetation zone, followed by the species found there.

Each species description includes a concise macroscopic description, some comments on the species, and a good color photograph. Each page typically contains two species descriptions with accompanying photographs. Edibility information is given when known. The information included is quite adequate for the armchair traveler and casual collector. A more complete description, including basic microscopic features, would be more useful for the serious collector, but that is not essential for a field guide.

After the sections on mushrooms, there are short chapters on rusts, lichens and slime molds. I find it pleasing to find these overlooked organisms included in a mushroom field guide. And although slime molds are not fungi, they have traditionally been studied by mycologists and will be commonly encountered in the field by any serious mushroom hunter. And they are supremely beautiful organisms!

Chapters on medicinal, poisonous, hallucinogenic, and edible mushrooms, and a chapter on the home cultivation of mushrooms round off the book. Also included is a useful glossary and bibliography.

At 7.5 X 10 inches, the book is too large to fit in your pocket, but certainly not too heavy to carry in the field. With lucid writing and more than 400 good quality color photographs, this book is a winner. Taking also into account the fine production values of a good, clear design and printing on quality paper, this book, at $39.95, is a deal!

— Review by Michael Wood

Buy Mushrooms of Hawai'i