Book Review

Phylogenetic Classification of Cordyceps and the Clavicipitaceous Fungi (Studies in Mycology 57)

By Gi-Ho Sung, Nigel L. Hywel-Jones, Jae-Mo Sung, J. Jennifer Luangsa-ard, Bhushan Shrestha, & Joseph W. Spatafora
2007 / ISBN 978-90-70351-66-3 / 63 pp.
Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures, Utrecht, The Netherlands

The parasitic ascomycetes of the genus Cordyceps have been gaining in notoriety and value with the increase of interest by North Americans in fungi as medicinal agents. Indeed, in parts of Tibet, the locals earn the major portion of their annual cash income through collecting C. sinensis, the caterpillar fungus or yartsa gunbu (“summer grass—winter worm,” now placed in the genus Ophiocordyceps, see below) for the Chinese and international markets, and outsiders who inconsiderately encroached upon the hunting grounds even have, on at least one occasion, been murdered.

This recent number in the Studies in Mycology series produced by an international team of authors addresses neither the disposable income of Tibetans nor the demise of caterpillar fungus poachers. Instead, as can be gleaned from the title, it is a technical systematic treatise on the genus and close relatives and, as such, will be of interest mainly to those seriously concerned specifically with the genus or in identifying fungi of all sorts.

The information is presented in typical scientific format with the usual abstract, list of newly coined names (there are many), introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion, plus a large section with taxonomic revisions and a key to the genera whose species formerly were included in Cordyceps s.l. A lengthy list of references and index of fungus names are provided. In addition to the requisite phylogenetic trees, illustrations include four plates with over 50 small color photos of fruiting bodies (mostly) and microscopic features, plus a small number of line drawings.

As hinted to above, the phylogenetic analyses of the authors led them to distribute the cordycepses among four newly created or amended genera—Cordyceps s.s., Elaphocordyceps, Metacordyceps, and Ophiocordyceps based in large part on the nature of the fruiting bodies and host. For instance, the new genus Elaphocordyceps contains closely related species that parasitize species of Elaphomyces (the deer truffles) or the nymphs of cicadas. In addition, there remain many species that, for various reasons, cannot yet be assigned to a new or revised genus and so are retained for the time being in Cordyceps s.l.

This is not casual reading and is rather expensive given its short length, but it is an authoritative treatment and will be of great value to those with an interest in this fascinating group of fungi. Fortunately, it also is available as a free PDF file, downloadable at the Web site Cordyceps US, which is an electronic monograph of the genus with an abundance of useful information for lovers of Cordyceps taxonomy.

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