Book Review

Funga Nordica:
Agaricoid, Boletoid, Clavarioid, Cyphelloid, and Gastroid Genera, 2nd edition

Edited by Henning Knudsen and Jan Vesterholt
ISBN 978-87-983961-3-0 (Hardcover, two volumes, 1083 pages)
Nordsvamp: Copenhagen, Denmark
Out of Print—3rd Edition due 2017

Between 1992 and 2000, 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 authored by a consortium of experts from the area and included considerable detail such that the species were fairly well described. 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 U.S. 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, Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). Thus, an expanded and updated version of that volume was produced with a new title—Funga Nordica (reviewed in the Winter 2011 issue of FUNGI). The first edition sold well and quickly went out of print. Rather than simply reprint it, the editors and national coordinators decided that a revised and expanded edition should be prepared. Thus, many genus treatments were updated or substantially revised, while others remained unchanged other than to correct errors. But, more importantly, many new genera (94 by my count) were added, largely as a result of including clavarioid and gastroid members of the Agaricomycetes, reflecting current systematic thought. Thus, the current volume corresponds to all of NM Volume 2 and a large part of Volume 3. The added coverage raised the page count from 965 to 1083 and caused the editors to split the content into two volumes for easier handling. Included are 56 families, 287 genera, and 3045 species.

The general content and organization are essentially the same as in the first edition. Front matter includes a list of the authors and their affiliations and addresses, sections on methods and presentation (there are lots of abbreviations and other conventions the user needs to become familiar with), a partially illustrated glossary, a description of vegetation zones and biogeographic provinces, maps of the geographic sub-areas of each of the five Nordic countries, a list of the abbreviations used when citing references to colored illustrations, and a discussion of the conservation status of fungi (red lists and so forth, new in this edition). Back matter includes two new combinations, an extensive list of references (25 pages’ worth), and the main index, organized principally by species epithet (a welcome switch from the first edition, making it much easier for users to track down the many species that have been moved into new genera in recent years). A useful quick index to the included genera and an overview of the taxonomic coverage are included on the back endpapers of both volumes.

The bulk of the book consists of dichotomous keys plus descriptions. The first set is 10 artificial keys to genera. These are followed by a key to the nine orders covered—Hymenochaetales (partial), Phallales, Hysterangiales, Geastrales, Polyporales (agaricoid genera only), Gloeophyllales, Russulales (Auriscalpiaceae and Russulaceae only), Boletales, 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. These latter keys are meant to be phylogenetic or ‘natural’ ones. Families are arranged phylogenetically within the orders and genera are arranged alphabetically within families. Descriptions of each of the taxa are provided. Unless you religiously keep up with the phylogenetic literature, many of the genus names likely will be unfamiliar and many familiar species will be in different genera than you are used to. Given that the rate of change in names and classifications shows no sign of slowing, one could make a case for adopting a more traditional organization in a work intended primarily for identification, so as to avoid having folks learn a new system that could itself be subject to substantial change in the near future.

In the genus keys, the final lead for each species includes a detailed description and accessory information, giving a 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 up to five references to sources of colored illustrations and other descriptions. Unfortunately, there no longer is an indication of species that are illustrated in MycoKey (see below). Illustrations of spores and other micro-features are conveniently placed near their species descriptions and, handily, the number of the page on which each figure occurs is used as that figure’s number. The keys are very usable and the editors have done an excellent job of taking input from 49 authors (8 more than in the first edition) and producing a consistently formatted volume.

Included with the first edition was a DVD containing a special version of MycoKey, a computer-based synoptic key to over 850 genera of macrofungi from throughout Europe, along with over 4000, mostly excellent, color photographs of approximately 2400 representative species. The disc also included PDF files of the Funga Nordica keys, allowing one to tote them on a laptop, rather than as a 5-lb book. Unfortunately, it was not possible to include MycoKey and the PDF files with this edition, a major bummer. In addition to not having access to the MycoKey images, those who have taken to using the first edition PDF files will have to return to lugging heavy hardcopies around if they upgrade to the new edition.

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. Though not cheap, it provides good value. If you don’t have the first edition, get the second if you can afford it or watch for a first edition on the used-book market. For those of you who already have the first edition, the best reason to get the second would be for the expanded coverage—principally the Phallales, Hysterangiales, Geastrales, and clavarioids. A second would be to have a reflection of the latest taxonomic thinking. Whether those incremental benefits are worth the expense only you can decide. However, if money’s tight, don’t despair, your copy of the first edition remains a valuable tool.

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