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CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Fungi of Temperate Europe

By Thomas Læssøe & Jens Petersen
2019, Princeton University Press
ISBN-10: 0691180377
ISBN-13: 978-0691180373
8 x 3.5 x 11.5 inches
Hardback; 2 volumes; 1,708 pages; 7,000 color illus.

Readers of FUNGI will probably be familiar with Danish mycologist Jens Petersen, whose book The Kingdom of Fungi offers a remarkable window on the Kingdom to which all of us are so devoted. Another well-known Danish mycologist, Thomas Læssøe, is a senior researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and author of numerous books on fungi. Joining their proverbial hands, these two individuals spent five years putting together a two volume guidebook entitled Fungi of Temperate Europe (Danish title: Nordeuropas Svampe). With such accomplished mycologists, you would expect these volumes to be good, but they’re not merely good—they’re (sorry, but I can’t curb my enthusiasm) utterly sensational, ranking with Fungi of Switzerland as perhaps the best fungal guidebooks on this or any other planet.  

Volume 1 contains 45 pages of front matter, with sections on fungal biogeography, asexual propagation, taste and smell, and microscopy, among other topics. These sections are eminently readable even if the reader happens to be an amateur or citizen-scientist, socalled. The rest of the volume focuses on the identification of agarics. Volume 2 covers the identification of polypores, corticioids, jellies, ascomycetes, and stinkhorns, among other fungi. The total number of species covered in both volumes is, believe it or not, 2,800. Likewise, the two volumes contain 7,000 color illustrations, with closeups of the diagnostic features included when necessary. Their combined weight makes them not the sort of guidebook(s) you would take into the field … except possibly for bench-pressing.  

Apart from its poundage, Fungi of Temperate Europe is not your typical guidebook. For one thing, it hardly focuses at all on edibility or toxicity. For another, it considers numerous species seldom covered in other guidebooks. Thus it contains 18 Typhula species, 12 Arrhenia species, 8 Hohenbuehelia, and 28(!) pages on Inocybes. But what makes it a truly innovative guidebook is the keys. The authors eschew dichotomous keys in favor of what they call “wheel keys” or “fungus wheels.” These are pie charts where the identifier starts in the middle and works his or her way outwards via photographs. Species are connected more or less morphologically. An example: non-deliquescing Coprinellus species are placed on the same wheel as Psathyrellas. Another example: cyphelloids are placed on the same wheel as inoperculate cup fungi. While the perpetual splitting of names (genus envy?) by phylogeneticists won’t assist you in identifying the specimen you might be looking at, the fungus wheels are designed to do so.  

Not surprisingly, Petersen and Læssøe are responsible for the multiaccess digital identification key known as MycoKey (, which they created to empower fungal identification in a non-phylogenetic manner—i.e., without making base pairs the be-all and end-all of the identification process. In fact, Fungi of Temperate Europe can be considered an attempt to transport what they discovered from MycoKey into book form.  

Since morphology matters to these Danish mycologists, you won’t be surprised to learn that virtually every one of the 7,000 photos is extremely sharp. As previously indicated, many of those photos offer close-ups of important diagnostic features; every one of them also has a scale bar so that you can immediately determine the size of the species in question. With respect to the abbreviated text, it includes the up-to-date binomial of each species, its physical characters, habitat, distribution, spore size, lookalikes, and whether it’s common or rare. Speaking of rarity, the text also includes a subject altogether alien to North American mycology— conservation status.  

I know what you’re thinking: can I use Fungi of Temperate Europe for identifying North American specimens? The answer is yes, because there’s a considerable overlap between species in Europe and North America. In browsing the two volumes, you might scratch your head when you gaze at many of the species. Some species that cause this head scratching may indeed be native only to Europe. Many others can be found in North America, but they’re seldom included in North American guidebooks … especially if those guidebooks focus only on species that are blatantly charismatic or blatantly edible. Here are a few examples of such seldom-included species: Gloiodon strigosus, Exidiopsis effusa, and Laboulbeniales (Harvard mycologist Roland Thaxter’s specialty). Unusual for any guidebook, there’s also an entire section on rusts and smuts.  

Let me conclude this review by indicating a “first” in the history of mycological guide-books—Fungi of Temperate Europe contains a key for LBMs! So what are you waiting for? Both volumes are essential for any mycological library, so you should procure them at your earliest convenience.

Note: The "Wheels" from these books, as illustrated above, are available to download as a PDF.

— Review by Lawrence Millman
— Originally published in Fungi