Book Review

Funga Nordica:
Agaricoid, boletoid and cyphelloid genera

Edited by Henning Knudsen and Jan Vesterholt
ISBN 978-87-983961-3-0 (Hardcover, 965 pages)
Nordsvamp: Copenhagen, Denmark; 2008
Out of print—replaced by 2nd edition

Between 1992 (Volume 2) and 2000 (Volume 1 — yes, it was last to appear), Nordsvamp published a comprehensive set of keys to the mushrooms of northern Europe — Nordic Macromycetes Volume 1: Ascomycetes, Volume 2: Polyporales, Boletales, Agaricales, Russulales, and Volume 3: Heterobasidioid, Aphyllophoroid, and Gastromycetoid Basidiomycetes. These were produced by a consortium of experts from the area and included considerable detail such that the species were fairly well described. Line drawings of spores and other microscopic features were included for many species and sources of photos were indicated. Although there are, of course, issues with using European keys for identifying North American fungi, these volumes have proven quite useful here, particularly in the northern US and Canada.

During compilation of Nordic Macromycetes Volume 2, the editors and authors realized that it fell short of covering all the species known to occur in the subject area (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). Thus, at the 16th Nordic Mycological Congress in 2003, the decision was made to produce an expanded and updated version of that volume. Because of the substantial revisions involved (for instance the page count grew from 474 to 965), the successor volume was given a new name rather than being called a second edition. In addition, the coverage was expanded to include species from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, northern Germany, northern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and northwestern Russia. A who’s who of 42 European mycologists contributed to this massive undertaking and now 2675 species of agaricoid, boletoid, and cyphelloid basidiomycetes are covered, including 114 from the newly included areas.

Front matter includes sections on methods and presentation (there are lots of abbreviations and other short-cuts the user needs to become familiar with), an illustrated glossary, a description of vegetation zones and biogeographic provinces, maps of the geographic sub-areas of each of the five Nordic countries, and a list of references to colored illustrations. Back matter includes a few notes, list of new combinations, an extensive list of references, and the main index (which, unfortunately, includes specific epithets only under their respective genus, requiring the user to know in which genus a species currently resides [or, in some cases, recently resided], not always an easy thing to do in this time of taxonomic flux). A useful quick index to genera is included on the back endpapers.

The bulk of the book consists of dichotomous keys. The first set of eight is to genera. These are followed by a key to the six orders recognized — Polyporales, Gloeophyllales, Russulales, Boletales, Hymenochaetales, and Agaricales. The remainder of the book is organized by order, with keys to family (if warranted by the size of the group), genus, and then species.

The final lead for each species includes a detailed description and accessory information, giving a daunting visual impression of massive leads that need to be digested in order to make your final dichotomous choice. But, in fact, the actual key lead extends only to the first full stop, making things much easier than they appear. The rest of the entry provides a detailed description of the macro- and microscopic features, followed by references to other sources of illustrations and descriptions, and a symbol to indicate those species illustrated in MycoKey (see below). Perhaps the descriptive information could have been started on a separate line, but that would have added unwanted length to the book. Illustrations of spores and other micro-features are conveniently placed near their species descriptions. The keys are very usable and the editors have done an excellent job of taking input from 41 authors and producing a very consistently formatted volume. One wouldn’t easily guess that so many authors were involved.

With the input of increasingly large amounts of molecular data, the taxonomy of the agarics is in rapid flux. Thus, it is not easy to decide upon a classification around which to organize a volume such as this. Here, a system based on a recent well regarded phylogeny (Matheny et al. Mycologia 98(6): 982-995, 2006) has been used, and additional genera have been added following the judgment of the editors and authors. I find family concepts far less useful in the agarics than they are, for instance, in the vascular plants, and probably would have preferred a simple alphabetical arrangement of genera.

Included with the book is a DVD containing MycoKey (version 3.1, special Funga Nordica edition). MycoKey is a computer-based (runs on both PC’s and Mac’s) synoptic key to over 850 genera of macrofungi from throughout Europe, along with over 4000, mostly excellent, color photographs of approximately 2400 representative species. This special version also includes PDF files of the Funga Nordica keys, allowing one to tote them on a laptop, rather than as a 5-lb book. I was unable to access the PDF’s from inside MycoKey (a four-step process), so opted to create a desktop shortcut to the appropriate folder in the program files. The valuable reference section includes more than 17,000 entries. Considering that a license for MycoKey costs 40 euros + VAT, its inclusion with Funga Nordica makes for a great bargain. And, until the book is reprinted, it provides an option for obtaining the content in digital format (the currently available standalone version 3.2 includes the Funga Nordica PDF’s,

Inasmuch as it is unlikely we will have a comparable resource available for North America any time soon, Funga Nordica should be considered an important item for the library of anyone who attempts to identify a large proportion of the mushrooms (s)he finds here. Hopefully the planned reprint will be completed soon and, when it is finished, perhaps we can convince the editors and authors to similarly revise and update Nordic Macromycetes Volumes 1 and 3!

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Fungi