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Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard: The Mysterious World of Mushrooms, Molds, and Mycologists

Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard:  The Mysterious World of Mushrooms, Molds, and Mycolog
Nicholas P. Money
Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 208 p., $26

Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard is a personal reflection on the subject of mycology, or the scientific study of fungi. The author introduces to the interested reader an unusual and at times weird world, so compelling that after reading this book, I have been on the lookout for mysterious fungi that may be attacking me at any moment.

It is a world of ever-present alien and bizarre mushrooms and molds, with one fungus entwining over 2,000 acres in Oregon, probably the world's largest organism. It is world of stinkhorns, puffballs, truffles, corpse eaters, black molds and phallic mushrooms — some delectable, many not. The orchard in the title refers to a yard next to Nicholas Money's childhood home, which started him on his path of mycological enlightenment.

While portions of this work are scientific, the author interlaces it with astonishing humor and personal references that keep the reader immersed in a surreal world. His anecdotes describing the writing of this manuscript make the subject lively and readable, rather than a dry textbook.

There is a dark side to fungi, especially evident when the author, a fungi expert, carelessly eats a poisonous mushroom. Nicholas Money conjectures that the inhalation of potent black mold spores, which can be lethal, may have been the cause of the mysterious illness contracted by servicemen in the Persian Gulf. It may also have been a biological weapon used by Iraq. In this same vein, the witches of Salem could have been women ingesting the poisonous ergot fungi, causing hallucinations.

The lives of mycologists, those dedicated individuals spending their lives with petri dishes and microscopes or hiking through unappealing environs, are described in terms of their discoveries. What a strange crew! Mr. Money describes them with humor, extending his descriptions even to their romances. This book will appeal to anyone curious about this remarkable world.

— Adele Kleine, Library Volunteer, Master Gardener, Contributing Writer to Chicagoland Gardeningmagazine