IntroductionIntroduction 9Introduction 2

Prominent botanical authority connected with one of our universities, upon learning of my intention of perpetrating a popular work on our edible mushrooms and toadstools, was inclined to take issue with me on the wisdom of such publication, giving as his reasons that, owing to the extreme difficulty of imparting exact scientific knowledge to the "general reader," such a work, in its presumably imperfect interpretation by the very individuals it is intended to benefit, would only result, in many instances, in supplanting the popular wholesome distrust of all mushrooms with a rash over-confidence which would tend to increase the labors of the family physician and the coroner. And, to a certain extent, in its appreciation of the difficulty of imparting exact science to the lay mind, his criticism was entirely reasonable, and would certainly apply to any treatise on edible mushrooms for popular circulation which contemplated a too extensive field, involving subtle botanical analysis and nice differentiation between species.

But when we realize the fact - now generally conceded - that most of the fatalities consequent upon mushroom - eating are directly traceable to one particular tempting group of fungi, and that this group is moreover so distinctly marked that a tyro could learn to distinguish it, might not such a popular work, in its emphasis by careful portraiture and pictorial analysis of this deadly genus - placarding it so clearly and unmistakably as to make it readily recognizable - might not such a work, to that extent at least, accomplish a public service?

Moreover, even the most conservative mycologist will certainly admit that out of the hundred and fifty of our admittedly esculent species of fungi there might be segregated a few which bear such conspicuous characters of outward form and other unique individual features - such as color of spores, gills, and tubes, taste, odor, surface character, color of milky juice, etc. - as to render them easily recognizable even by the "general reader."

It is in the positive, affirmative assumption of these premises that the present work is prepared, comprising as it does a selection of a score or more, as it were, self-placarded esculent species of fungi, while putting the reader safely on guard against the fatal species and a few other more or less poisonous or suspicious varieties which remote possibility might confound with them.

Since the publication of a recent magazine article on this topic, and which became the basis of the present elaboration, I have been favored with a numerous and almost continuous correspondence upon mushrooms, including letters from every State in the Union, to say nothing of Canada and New Mexico, evincing the wide-spread interest in the fungus from the gustatory point of view. The cautious tone of most of these letters, in the main from neophyte mycologists, is gratifying in its demonstration of the wisdom of my position in this volume, or, as one of my correspondents puts it, "the frightening of one to death at the outset while extending an invitation to the feast." "Death was often a consequence of toadstool eating," my friend continued, "but I never before realized that it was a certain result with any particular mushroom, and to the extent of this information I am profoundly thankful."