By Harley Barnhart
This column originally appeared in our Winter 2003 issue.

Mushrooms of Hawaii by Don E. Hemmes and Dennis E. Desjardin, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2002, ISBN 1-58008-0, 212 pages, $39.95 paper.

It was a nasty job, but someone had to do it. After what the authors describe as ten years of research, we now have a splendid guide to Hawaiian fungi – the first ever.

Hemmes and Desjardin have given many of their new species hawaiian names. “Noelokelani” is the Hawaiian name for the pink rose of Maui.

Two hundred and five fleshy fungi are described and illustrated with excellent photographs. About 20 of these are species recently published by the authors and associates. An additional 29 species are illustrated and identified in chapters on rusts, lichens, and myxomycetes. Added chapters on mycophagic animals and on medicinal, toxic, and hallucinogenic species are also well illustrated. Habitat scenes and chapters on collecting, medicinals, culturing, and cookery bring the color illustrations to nearly 400 total.

The authors, as of publication, had recorded 310 species of Agaricales, representing 83 genera and 14 families. Before they began the project, in 1990, there had been fewer than 100 species of Agaricales and boletes recorded for the Islands. Publication of these records had been scattered in journal articles, which are listed in the extensive bibliography of this book. Perhaps a reason for the dearth of earlier work is simply that no qualified mycologist was tempted to put in the extensive time and effort required for a survey of (mostly) introduced species. Hemmes and Desjardin estimate that only 46 of their total 310 species represent endemic Hawaiian taxa. These are not abundant or large, and none are ectomycorrhizal.

Introduced they may be, but this book proves there are some fascinating fungi in Hawaii, if one does but know where and when to look. The book is replete with advice on “where and when.” There is a map in the introduction that identifies 16 sites on the five major islands, followed by three pages describing each place or area and the types of fungi normally encountered there. For a “haole” visitor, those three pages alone would nearly justify the purchase of this book. Even a morel site on Maui is listed! Ah, but there is a problem! These “are forest areas within national and state parks, natural area reserves, and other protected habitats. Collecting is not allowed without a permit.”

Much of Hawaii is overrun by tourists, producing a natural climate of hostility to trespassing. Come to think of it, my few efforts to locate mushrooms during visits there were somewhat frustrated by “no trespass” signs. It is still worthwhile, I think, to know where the authors collected. Not many visitors will be seeking edibles anyway, photographs have some uses even without voucher collections, and there is probably a chance to poke around the vicinity where it is not kapu!

The book has no keys, verbal or pictorial. Recognizing the unique importance of habitat in the Islands, the authors elected to arrange their species presentation by vegetation zones (which occur throughout the Islands). There are 16 such zones, with titles such as “Guava Thickets,” “Wet Windward Alien Forests,” “Arid Leeward Montane Habitats” and “Mesic Montane Native Forests.” As a sometime resident of both Florida and California, I was surprised that two of the zones were “Coastal Casuarina” (a.k.a “ironwood”) and “Eucalyptus Forests”. Melaleuca also is mentioned. All of these trees have been forgettable for mushrooms in my experience. Possibly the Eucalyptus is not the blue gum variety? Quite possibly Hawaii’s temperature and rainfall patterns are the key. This question may require my personal study next December.

Mushrooms will not, of course, stay confined to their most common habitats, so the book’s presentation of each zone ends with abbreviated references to mushrooms often found there but described under a different zone.

This scarlet cup, Sarcoscypha mesocyatha, was first described from Hawaii. It is related to the mainland scarlet cups, Sarcoscypha coccinea and S. occidentalis.

Descriptions are brief but quite adequate, given the excellence of the illustrations. The accompanying comments usually add identification clues, and they often point to specific trails or forest groves where species have been found.
The price of the book may seem a bit steep for 212 pages paperbound, but there seems no end to inflation in the trade. There are those good color plates to amortize, and a limited sale may have been forecast. Surely, Ten Speed Press would not take advantage of the fact that mushrooming in Hawaii has been nearly impossible for a visitor before this book!