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A Pocket Guide to Mushrooms in Zimbabwe.

When I was in school, sometime after the Renaissance, fungi were classified as members of the plant kingdom. Taxonomic thinking has come a long way since then, and for some time now, they have merited their own kingdom: Fungi. Their cells possess cell walls, as plant cells do, but the structural material is subtly different, as is their mode of nutrition which is heterotrophic--that is, they don't rely on direct photosynthesis for their carbon fixation and synthesis of organic material. Still, mycologists who study fungi are more often than not regarded as a type of botanist--and in fact my university course in mycology was labelled Botany 100 all those years ago although the professor made it clear on day one that he didn't regard them as plants at all.

All in all, they are fascinating organisms, and responsible for a lot that we take for granted in our daily lives. They range from single-celled aquatic species large multicellular mushrooms. There are an estimated at 1.5 million to 5 million species, with less than ten percent having been formally classified. They have been used as a food source, and to produce medicines, but they also occur as debilitating parasites and can synthesize deadly toxins.

Africa supports many varieties of fungi, and all too often they are inadequately studied. A Pocket Guide to Mushrooms in Zimbabwe by regional expert Cathy Sharp is the first in a series of booklets intended to rectify this, and I am happy to say Cathy has agreed to do a regular column for African Hunter on the Mushrooms of Zimbabwe.

Cathy spends an inordinate amount of time in the bush, and she has succeeded in creating what the authors of most other field guides have not--a field guide. Firstly it is full of clear and concise information that you don't have to be a doctoral candidate in mycology to understand. And unlike many such guides, being in A6 format it is not only a handy size to fit in the pocket of a bush jacket, it is also constructed of high-quality laminated pages which are spiral bound to facilitate years of practical use. Considering that most amateur taxonomists initially rely on photographs to identify just about anything, the photos in A Pocket Guide to Mushrooms in Zimbabwe work admirably toward this end, being of the highest quality in colour and clarity.

A great many hunters and tourists finish up their visit to Africa by buying a number of natural history books and field guides to remember their trip and to also for future reference. A Pocket Guide to Mushrooms is one book that you should consider getting at the beginning of your visit, and a knowledge of the fungi you may encounter in the bush will enhance the experience.

Cathy's caveat at the beginning of the book--an old proverb that admonishes "All mushrooms are edible; some of them only once!"--serves as a warning to would-be bush gourmets, but you don't have to eat them to enjoy them!

Available directly from Cathy Sharp, or from the Natural History Museum Shop and Tendele Crafts in Bulawayo, or the WEZ Shop, Mukuvisi Woodlands, in Harare. At only $25.00, it's a good investment to add to any outdoors library.

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Author:Larivers, I.J
Publication:African Hunter Magazine
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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