Book Review: Fungi of Temperate Europe

Book Review: Fungi of Temperate Europe

Thomas Læssøe, Jens Petersen. 2019. Fungi of Temperate Europe (2 vols.) Princeton University Press. 1715 pages. Price: $145.00.

This two-volume set, translated from Danish, establishes a new benchmark for presentation and ease of use. The authors are well-known and widely respected mycologists. Læssøe is the author of a popular English language field guide; Petersen is author of the recent Fungal Kingdom. Their original remit was to prepare a revision of the magisterial, but out-of-print, Danmarks Svampe. However, to the benefit of all with an interest in field mycology, they convinced the publisher to expand the coverage to temperate Europe and prepare an entirely new work.

I once asked Dick Korf what was the best field guide for fungi. His answer was “the one with the most pictures”. By this criterion alone the present volumes are almost an embarrassment of riches. These two volumes present more than 7,000 photographic images and 3,000 drawings of the fungi found in most of western and central Europe, excluding alpine, sub-Arctic, and Mediterranean bioclimatic zones. The quality of the photos and their reproduction are of the highest order. Even better, the authors have developed and arranged a unique and effective series of diagnostic visual keys based on MycoKey, a system of what they call “fungal wheels”, through which the reader is easily guided to the correct genus and then to individual photos and descriptions of the species within the genus. Despite the emphasis on morphology in their arrangement and presentation of taxa, the taxonomy is current, including most revisions of polypheletic groups, and their nomenclature reflects this (although lacking in author citations). In short, it is a commendable synthesis of morphology enlightened by DNA sequencing.

The fungal wheels function as synoptic keys, clearly illustrating different macro- and micromorphological characters of sporocarps, hyphal connections, spore shape and color (Figures 1 & 2) and chemotaxonomic characteristics (only rarely illustrated but described succinctly). The coverage of the “form groups” is biased towards Agaricomycotina (1,872 species covered), as typical of the genre, but includes representative species of most operculate discomycete genera (136 species) and the more common inoperculates (257 species). A selection of common and spectacular pyrenomycetes is included (209 species). Examples of rusts, smuts, powdery mildews, Laboulbeniales, hyphomycetes, coelomycetes and slime molds are illustrated. Included in the species descriptions are notes on distribution, ecology, edibility, and toxicity. The coverage of boletes and polypores is excellent, as is that of the clavarioid fungi (excluding the highly diverse Ramaria, of which “only” 30 species are illustrated). For smaller genera of gilled agarics coverage is nearly 100%; for larger genera coverage falls off.

While certainly not a field guide as these volumes are both massive, this work will become an invaluable resource for students, teachers, aspiring naturalists, and local mycological societies. All would be well advised to know, at a minimum, where they can avail themselves of a copy, if not purchase one. This work is not a monograph and it doesn’t aspire to be one. It is an exemplary and beautifully illustrated guide to the diversity of the fungal world, at least that of temperate regions. Perhaps some consortium could produce similar volumes using the present set as models for the Neotropics, Southeast Asia, or tropical Africa.

Because nothing is perfect, I feel a need to express one, perhaps quibbling, complaint. The text is, in most cases, very precise in its application of terminology; for example, powdery mildews develop and reproduce by chasmothecia, yet the authors consistently refer to the “stems” of sporocarps, rather than calling them stipes; similarly, some fungi are described as “rooted” in a substrate. Considering how correct the authorial usage is generally, this is a bit disconcerting.

David Yohalem
Hoyos del Tozo
Burgos, Spain