CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Boundary Layer:
Exploring the Genius Between Worlds

By Kem Luther
2016, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, Oregon
$19.95; paperback; 240 pages
ISBN: 978-0-87071-844-1

“When we’re finished looking at the clump of moss, we can put it back where we found it—we pulled no roots from the ground when we picked it up. If we were lucky, the brief examination we gave this clump and its stems has revealed what species of moss we found. Some species are easy to recognize, even without a hand lens … [however] even if we are successful in finding out what moss we have been looking at, we still have in front of us questions that taxonomy cannot answer: What roles do the various species of moss play in the ecosystems that support them? What are mosses for?”

So opens the brand new book Boundary Layer by Vancouver Island (British Columbia) based writer and naturalist Kem Luther. What are mosses for … and why a review about a book on mosses in a mycological journal? The “boundary layer” explored in this book is defined as “the air layer where the ground comes into contact with the air, where daily fluctuations in temperature and moisture are transferred to or from the surface of the earth.” Thus the boundary layer, indeed this book, is the home to mosses, sure, but also teems with lichens, ferns, fungi, and diminutive plants. It’s a vibrant and crucial part of our planet; indeed it is the dominant zone of life in some regions and contains some of the most common species on the planet. Yet few people other than naturalists probably give it much notice or have an appreciation for what goes on there. Not Luther. He doesn’t miss anything in Nature. And this book is a wonderful exploration of this zone along with some researchers working to unlock its secrets. A pair of park employees on a windswept beach shows how the violent clash of sea and land creates a sandy home for some of the world’s most endangered plants, including the almost-extinct pink sand-verbena. An expert on mosses, as ingenuous as the plants he loves, leads the author up a mountain and into a sphagnum bog. A husband and wife team, exiled by brutal repression in the wake of the Prague Spring, introduce European plant sociology to North America. A scientist, while revolutionizing the study of lichens, hides himself, hermitlike, inside one of the largest park reserves in the American West.

Boundary Layer is a very enjoyable read, part natural history, part botany text, part philosophical essay. Luther has a compelling writing style (he has contributed articles to FUNGI magazine in the past) and will enthrall you, all the while introducing you to a part of the world around you—a zone you are very familiar with, but that you probably hardly know.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi