CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Genus Hygrocybe, 2nd Edition

By David Boertmann
Fungi of Northern Europe, Vol. 1
2010; ISBN 978-87-983581-7-6 (hardcover, 200 pp.)
The Danish Mycological Society / Svampetryk

This second edition has improved an already excellent book that, even though written for northern Europe, is very useful in North America. Author David Boertmann, an expert in Arctic ecology, also is an amateur mycologist, although one would never guess it by the quality of his work. He has been studying waxcaps for over 35 years and, like many European “amateurs,” has made significant contributions to the taxonomic knowledge in his area of expertise.

This new edition covers all 62 species and varieties recognized by Boertmann from the Alps to northern Norway, with special emphasis, not surprisingly, on Denmark. The northern Atlantic islands, Iceland, and Greenland are also included. Of the included taxa, over half have been reported from North America so the book is a useful supplement to our own monographs such as North American Species of Hygrophorus by Hesler and Smith, and Agaricales of California—Hygrophoraceae by David Largent.

With the exception of a few minor modifications, the organization of the 2nd edition is the same as its predecessor. After the preface, an introduction summarizes Boertmann’s methodology, a taxonomic description of Hygrocybe covering both the macroscopic and microscopic features, and his systematic arrangement of taxa within the genus. He readily admits that the arrangement he has chosen does not reflect the results of recent studies, including molecular phylogenetics. However, he feels, and I agree with him, that not enough is known yet to produce a natural classification that would be stable over the long term. Thus, it makes sense to stick with a familiar arrangement rather than introduce a new one that would have to be revised in a few years. He then discusses the habitats in which hygrocybes are found, their roles in those ecosystems, and the importance of hygrocybes as indicators of grassland habitat quality (in northern Europe hygrocybes occur most abundantly in unfertilized grasslands, which are disappearing there). It is interesting to speculate why the same, or very closely related, fungi live in grasslands in northern Europe and forests in North America. We still have a lot to learn.

Next, he presents two sets of keys—the first based on macroscopic features and suitable for field use, the second based on macroscopic and microscopic characters. These follow a list of the species that have features that set them apart clearly from the other taxa—similar to a synoptic key, but less comprehensive than an actual key would be. Following the keys, he lists illustrations of hygrocybes in a number of other European publications that he feels are mis-identified, and provides his best assessment of the proper name. I like this feature and wish other authors were willing to include it in their works.

The main section of the book contains the descriptions, and here’s where it really shines. Each species receives at least two pages that include a comprehensive but succinct description, comments on ecology and distribution, and a discussion of the taxon in relation to possible lookalikes and other taxonomists’ concepts. Amateur mycologists will appreciate that Boertmann uses fairly broad species concepts. Illustrations for each taxon include very high quality color photographs that are particularly effective for identification, a distribution map, and drawings of spores. Many photos have been replaced and several new ones added in this edition, and the quality of reproduction is better than in the first edition (although the quality in the first edition was good). Those who own the first edition will want to keep it as a source of additional photos. The discussions don’t offer many comments on edibility because Hygrocybe pratensis is the only species Boertmann recommends eating.

Four new species have been added—H. hygrocyboides, roseascens, aurantia, and olivaceonigra. Two names have been dropped—H. radiata has been moved into flavipes, and H. marchii into coccinea. The epithet acutoconica has replaced persistens for the species and its varieties as it has nomenclatural priority.

All-in-all, this is another first-class effort. Beautiful, professionally presented, and just the right amount of information to give all of us a fighting chance to identify these eye-catching fungi.

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