Fungi of Aotearoa: A curious forager’s field guide

Liv Sisson, Penguin, $45

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Earth tongue. Waxgills. Velvet shank. Slippery jacks. Milkcaps. This new field guide is packed with gorgeous macro photography (by Paula Vigus), but what really got me were the words. The names of these things skip and ooze. They’re like found poetry. Here’s a few more: Shaggy parasol. Eyelash cups. Turkey tail. Orange ping pong bat!

Liv Sisson clearly loves words, too—she has a nimble style, and a knack for squelching important information (like how not to eat a death cap) into clear, lively sentences.

She begins the book with a story about being “struck by lichening” during a tramp on Rakiura. Other small anecdotes are scattered through the opening chapters—perky primers on New Zealand’s “charismatic, delicious, shocking and useful” fungi and the joys and dangers of hunting for them.

The field guide section is practical and packed with good big pictures, as you’d expect, but what’s unusual is that even here, the text trips along nicely. Honey mushrooms “grow in cuddly clusters”. Cup fungi “look like spa baths for ants”. This is a book I wish our family had had during lockdown, when fungi-hunts were a daily sanity saver. It now lives in the front pocket of the bag we take on bushwalks.