This section is from the book "Studies of American Fungi: Mushrooms, Edible, Poisonous, Etc.", by George Francis Atkinson. Also available from Amazon: Studies of American Fungi: Mushrooms, Edible, Poisonous, Etc..
Since the issue of my "Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms," as Bulletins 138 and 168 of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, there have been so many inquiries for them and for literature dealing with a larger number of species, it seemed desirable to publish in book form a selection from the number of illustrations of these plants which I have accumulated during the past six or seven years. The selection has been made of those species representing the more important genera, and also for the purpose of illustrating, as far as possible, all the genera of agarics found in the United States. This has been accomplished except in a few cases of the more unimportant ones. There have been added, also, illustrative genera and species of all the other orders of the higher fungi, in which are included many of the edible forms.
The photographs have been made with great care after considerable experience in determining the best means for reproducing individual, specific, and generic characters, so important and difficult to preserve in these plants, and so impossible in many cases to accurately portray by former methods of illustration.
One is often asked the question: "How do you tell the mushrooms from the toadstools?" This implies that mushrooms are edible and that toadstools are poisonous, and this belief is very widespread in the public mind. The fact is that many of the toadstools are edible, the common belief that all of them are poisonous being due to unfamiliarity with the plants or their characteristics.
Some apply the term mushroom to a single species, the one in cultivation, and which grows also in fields (Agaricus campestris), and call all others toadstools. It is becoming customary with some students to apply the term mushroom to the entire group of higher fungi to which the mushroom belongs (Bcisidiomycetes), and toadstool is regarded as a synonymous term, since there is, strictly speaking, no distinction between a mushroom and a toadstool. There are, then, edible and poisonous mushrooms, or edible and poisonous toadstools, as one chooses to employ the word.
A more pertinent question to ask is how to distinguish the edible from the poisonous mushrooms. There is no single test or criterion, like the "silver spoon" test, or the criterion of a scaly cap, or the presence of a "poison cup" or "death cup," which will serve in all cases to distinguish the edible from the poisonous. Two plants may possess identical characters in this respect, i. e., each may have the "death cup," and one is edible while the other is poisonous, as in Amanita caesarea, edible, and A. phalloides, poisonous. There are additional characters, however, in these two plants which show that the two differ, and we recognize them as two different species.
To know several different kinds of edible mushrooms, which occur in greater or less quantity through the different seasons, would enable those interested in these plants to provide a palatable food at the expense only of the time required to collect them. To know several of the poisonous ones also is important, in order certainly to avoid them.
The purpose of this book is to present the important characters which it is necessary to observe, in an interesting and intelligible way, to present life-size photographic reproductions accompanied with plain and accurate descriptions. By careful observation of the plant, and comparison with the illustrations and text, one will be able to add many species to the list of edible ones, where now perhaps is collected "only the one which is pink underneath." The chapters 17 to 21 should also be carefully read.
The number of people in America who interest themselves in the collection of mushrooms for the table is small compared to those in some European countries. The number, however, is increasing, and if a little more attention were given to the observation of these plants and the discrimination of the more common kinds, many persons could add greatly to the variety of their foods and relishes with comparatively no cost. The quest for these plants in the fields and woods would also afford a most delightful and needed recreation to many, and there is no subject in nature more fascinating to engage one's interest and powers of observation.
There are also many important problems for the student in this group of plants. Many of our species and the names of the plants are still in great confusion, owing to the very careless way in which these plants have usually been preserved, and the meagerness of recorded observations on the characters of the fresh plants, or of the different stages of development. The study has also an important relation to agriculture and forestry, for there are numerous species which cause decay of valuable timber, or by causing "heart rot" entail immense losses through the annual decretion occurring in standing timber.
If this book contributes to the general interest in these plants as objects of nature worthy of observation, if it succeeds in aiding those who are seeking information of the edible kinds, and stimulates some students to undertake the advancement of our knowledge of this group, it will serve the purpose the author had in mind in its preparation.
I wish here to express my sincere thanks to Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer for her kindness in writing a chapter on recipes for cooking mushrooms, especially for this book; to Professor I. P. Roberts, Director of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, for permission to use certain of the illustrations (Figs. 1-7, 12-14, 31-43) from Bulletins 138 and 168, Studies and Illustrations of Mushrooms; to Mr. F. R. Rathbun, for the charts from which the colored plates were made; to Mr. J. F. Clark and Mr. H. Hasselbring, for the Chapters on Chemistry and Toxicology of Mushrooms, and Characters of Mushrooms, to which their names are appended, and also to Dr. Chas. Peck, of Albany, N. Y., and Dr. G. Bresadola, of Austria-Hungary, to whom some of the specimens have been submitted.
Geo. F. Atkinson, Ithaca, N. Y., October, 1900. Cornell University.