Review: The Kingdom of Fungi
The Kingdom of Fungi, Jens H. Petersen, Princeton University Press, 2013
Aside from an inordinate fondness for morels I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about fungi. Few—other than gourmands and hobbyists—do. But consider that one of the largest living organisms in the world is a honey fungus (Armillaria gallica) which lives in Michigan and occupies 1,482 acres, and weighs more than 100 tons. The largest edible puff-ball lived in Canada and was more than eight feet in girth and produced enough spores to populate entire galaxies.
Fungi live in intimate contact with their food breaking down nutrients externally. In breaking down organic matter they make nutrients available to plants while benefiting from the products of photosynthesis. Some are agents of disease. Others are psychoactive. Many are sufficiently toxic to kill a person in very small doses. And others live in complex relationships with bacteria and algae which may have made terrestrial life possible. Fungi are everywhere and form a critical part of the ecology of plants and animals.
Those seeking to understand fungi have, for the most part, had only two resources available: field guides to edible mushrooms, or graduate level textbooks. Now, with the publication of The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens H. Petersen, we have a beautifully illustrated source of information about the phylogeny, ecology, and biology of these fascinating and important organisms. Peterson is a mycologist, and a superb photographer who has taught at Aarhus University for more than 20 years and has illustrated several books on edible mushrooms.