A New Guide To Kansas Mushrooms

Mycology is mushrooming!

So reads one of my favorite bumperstickers, and it certainly is, now more than ever. As if to prove it, even as I wrote this I discovered oyster mushrooms growing nearby, and cooked them for dinner.

I've been exploring the wonderland of tiny interconnected subterranean tubes (this is not related to mushroom ingestion) sometimes called the Wood Wide Web. A long-time fascination, my interest mushroomed last fall, when I found a few good-sized lion's manes fruiting on a maple tree. I also found medicinal mushrooms called reishi, as well as artist's conks and delicate coral fungi. 

I was primed for the journey, for I had read Suzanne Simard's Finding the Mother Tree, Doug Bierend's In Search of Mycotopia, and Merlin Sheldrake's fun and fungal book, Entangled Life. All deserve your attention. The latter was recommended at a gathering of the library's Nature Book Club, when, to our surprise, one thing led to another and we discovered that one of our participants, Sherry Kay, had been busy updating a book on... Kansas mushrooms!

And it's out right now!


"Originally published in 1993, A Guide to Kansas Mushrooms went out of print in 2017. Original author Richard Kay suggested his wife, Sherry Kay, could assume the undertaking of revising the book, collaborating with him working as a consultant. After Richard’s death in 2018, Sherry later added two coauthors, Benjamin Sikes and Caleb Morse, to complete the task.

Kay, Sikes, and Morse have revised this new edition to account for the variety of ways mycology has changed in the last twenty-five years, while holding to its original purpose as a guide for active mushroomers. Primarily, A New Guide to Kansas Mushrooms highlights the upheaval in taxonomy caused by advances in molecular genetics: an estimated 25 percent of fungal names included in the original guide have changed since 1993. Second, the list of mushrooms found in Kansas has expanded and the new edition will add 50 species to the 150 described in the original guide."

To celebrate, we're sponsoring a book launch with Sherry and her coauthors in the library auditorium on Tuesday, October 4, at 6:30. There will be a presentation, show and tell, and the Raven Bookstore will be on hand to sell copies of the new guide.

Since learning of Sherry's book, I've spent even more hours both out in the woods and between the pages of the many mushroomy books the library owns. The aforementioned Bierend and Sheldrake titles, which offer rather different takes, provide a wide-ranging welcome to those new to mycology, covering -- or perhaps uncovering -- way more ground than you would expect. Neither is a field guide; one is a look at the new generation of "mushroom people," the other a mycophile’s look at the lives of the fungi themselves. Here are a few other titles to, er, pore over, ranging from field guides to growing guides to more philosophical fungal ramblings:

The Essential Guide to Cultivating Mushrooms

Mycelium Running

The Beginner’s Guide to Mushrooms

Mushrooms of the Midwest

Healing Mushrooms

Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms

Fantastic Fungi (book and Blu-ray)

Inspired by discovering the always fun "Crime Pays But Botany Doesn't" on YouTube, this post was originally going to be about plants. (Nerd note: Fungi are not plants. They belong in their own kingdom. Note two: A botanist acquaintance, coincidentally nicknamed "Mushroom," years ago called for a more appropriate name for this taxonomic category -- Kindom. Why has this not yet happened?!) But soon after I learned of A New Guide to Kansas Mushrooms, Joey (the YouTube botanist) introduced citizen scientist Alan Rockefeller, a self-taught mycologist and photographer who forays and forages in California and Mexico.

Suddenly things I had been reading about, including the advances in molecular genetics featured in Sherry's new book and In Search of Mycotopia, seemed much more real, accessible, and totally fascinating. Who knew one could walk around in the woods looking for mushrooms, post photos for crowd-sourced species verification, then photograph the spores through a community lab’s microscope for additional confirmation? Then -- why not? -- proceed with gel electrophoresis and PCR amplification, post the genetic code on GenBank, compare it to known codes, and perhaps end up naming a new organism. Big Science becomes Citizen Science! Some of these folks even travel with portable labs!

Postscript: the Nature Book Club just had its fall equinox meeting, and Sherry brought hot-off-the-press copies of A New Guide to Kansas Mushrooms for show and tell. Eight-word review: Bring your credit card to the book launch.