The Magic Mushrooms of Chapel Hill

Descourtilz, Des champignons comestibles, suspects et vénéneux (Paris, 1827) / Folio-2 QK617 .D47 atlas

Descourtilz, Des champignons comestibles, suspects et vénéneux (Paris, 1827) / Folio-2 QK617 .D47 atlas

This past summer, Chapel Hill has experienced extremely heavy rainfall. Every day, it seems, the clouds shower down, making it even greener than usual. But other vivid colors are also present, the moisture having nourished an amazing array of fungi.

Chapel Hill and the Piedmont are indeed an excellent area for mushroom foraging. To aid one in this potentially dangerous activity, the Rare Book Collection has an outstanding collection of rare mycological books, many donated by late UNC Professor William C. Coker, and still others by R. Philip Hanes in honor of John N. Couch.

Among the most visually spectacular of the RBC’s mushroom books is Michel Etienne Descourtilz’s Des champignons comestibles, suspects et vénéneux— On Mushrooms, Edible, Suspicious, and Poisonous—(Paris, 1827). It is actually one of the over 10,000 books of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societiesthe oldest UNC student organization (founded in 1795)which helped to establish the University Library.

The hand-colored lithograph shown above is from the Descourtilz atlas volume and one of four plates devoted to suspicious mushrooms. However, the edible and poisonous are no less fantastic and scarey looking! And so we invoke these words of caution as we wish you happy hunting: “There are bold mushroom hunters. And there are old mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”

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