The Forgotten Forest – book review

By Bevan Weir, 31 December, 2023

I recently read the book “The Forgotten Forest” subtitled “in search of the lost plants and fungi of Aotearoa” by author Robert Vennell who is a natural science curator at the Auckland Museum.

cover of the book: The forgotten forest

The book focuses on those taxa often overlooked in the forest: fungi, lichens, liverworts, mosses, and slime moulds, each with their own chapter. For many people this will be their first exposure to these groups as distinct entities rather than being lumped in with plants, and Robert does a great job of making them distinct and memorable.

The scientific accuracy is excellent, the author consulted with many New Zealand group experts as detailed in the acknowledgements. There were many interesting facts that were new to me, fleshing out the role these organisms have in the ecosystem. 

The writing style was quite unusual, it was written in a first-person perspective with the different organisms discussed narratively linked together as though going on a walk though the forest and encountering different species. At times for me this writing style seemed contrived and artificially exuberant such as the “immediate recoil” from a mushroom blueing reaction, and it is likely impossible to see all of the species mentioned in a single walk. However, for most people I think this narrative device would be a really helpful way to place these taxa into their context in the forest and make them interesting and accessible.

There are 224 pages of text plus 64 image plates at the beginning and end, there are also occasional ‘line drawing’ type images in the body of the text. The pages have a substantial margin so there is not a large amount of text per page and would be easy to read in a couple of afternoons. For those that want to delve deeper there are 13 pages of 186 detailed endnotes, and 12 pages of references.

The forgotten forest book, open at page 176 showing margins and inline image
book open at page 176 in the slime mould chapter showing margins and inline image

Overall, I highly recommend this book as a light and easy introduction into the fascinating diversity of fungal and ‘plant’ life in the forests of Aotearoa. It is the perfect read during a summer afternoon.


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