CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Illustrated Generic Names of Fungi:
Etymology, Descriptions, Classifications, & References

By Miguel Ulloa & Elvira Aguirre-Acosta
2020; The American Phytopathological Society/APS Press
ISBN: 978-0-89054-618-5
hardcover; 451 pp.; 8.5"×11"
Price: $199.00 (general)/$179.10(APS members)

When my wife noticed this book sitting on our dining-room table, amongst other of my essential clutter, she asked what they were talking about with “Generic Names.” To me, it has always been associated with brews that come in plain white cans simply labeled, “Beer.” Or it means acetaminophen, not Tylenol. For reasons that escape me, mycologists have long used “generic” in places where “genus” is more appropriate. The fact that it is the name of a genus is critical to the meaning, it isn’t simply a modifier as in “red mushroom.” So the title should have said “Genus Names.” After all, we say “species names,” “family names” (not “familial”), “class names” (not “classical”), animal names (not “animalian”), and so forth. But, the title is what it is, so I’ll descend from my soapbox and get on with the review.

The authors both are mycologists and work in the Departamento de Botánica, Instituto de Biologia, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Ulloa has published on a wide variety of fungi, mostly including yeasts and other micro-ascomycetes. Aguirre-Acosta has been involved with a number of fungus biodiversity projects involving both macro- and microfungi. The raison d’être for Illustrated Generic Names of Fungi arose from the authors’ belief, which I share, that the best way to appreciate and remember scientific names is to understand their component parts. By learning the Greek and Latin roots of genus names, anyone can gain a deeper and broader understanding of fungi, or other organisms for that matter. Additionally, by being provided with the bibliographic citation for the original genus description, readers can look them up and better comprehend the history and nature of scientific authorities.

Although the title includes “Fungi” with a capital F, descriptions also are provided for fungus-like organisms in Kingdoms Chromista and Protozoa seeing as how many of their members have traditionally been studied by mycologists. The contents and organization are easily described. Each of the three kingdoms gets its own section and, within those sections, the genus (not “generic,” which would mean something else) entries are organized alphabetically. True to the book’s subtitle, each entry includes its description and the authority, etymology, and current taxonomic classification. In many cases, details are also provided about the lifestyle of the fungi in the genus, including interactions with other organisms as saprotrophs, parasitic symbionts, and mutualistic symbiotic associations such as lichens and mycorrhizas. A one-page Abbreviations and Symbols and one-page Bibliography follow the descriptions. Given the alphabetical arrangement, there was no need for an index.

As of the 2008 edition of Dictionary of the Fungi, approximately 8283 genera of Fungi, 126 genera of Chromista, and 122 genera of Protozoa had been described. By the authors’ count, 1592 of them are included here (1474, 59, and 69, respectively, based on my counting the entries for the latter two kingdoms and subtracting the total from 1592). Obviously, not all of the over 8000 genera of fungi could be included and the microfungi constitute a vast majority within the kingdom, so mushroom-lovers shouldn’t be surprised to find their familiar genera in a distinct minority. The principal ones are all there, but a lot of the recently coined (or newly resurrected) genera — think Atractosporocybe, Infundibulicybe, Pseudolaccaria, Butyriboletus, etc. are not to be found. Roughly twothirds of the entries (1052, according to the publisher’s information) are supported by a watercolor painting of a representative species done by Ulloa. They are nicely rendered and add considerable visual appeal to the book. Being watercolors, they are a bit stylized and lack some of the crisp detail that line drawings would provide. The illustrations of the microfungi include things like hyphae, sporophores, spores, asci, and conidia. I have little experience with these sorts of fungi, but the graphic presentation is clear, seemingly accurate, and likely to be very helpful. However, I can’t say the same for many of the illustrations of the macrofungi. Although most of them are readily recognizable from their overall morphology, others are not. For instance, Chlorophyllum molybdites, Armillaria ostoyae, Inocybe rimosa (shown with a fimbriate, rather than rimose, cap margin) and Hypomyces lactifluorum (incorrectly described as occurring on a red russula basidiocarp when, actually, the bright orangish red color comes from the hypomyces) are not good likenesses. A bigger issue is that the colors are, in almost all cases, not accurate. The bright orange Aleuria aurantia shows up as a peziza- or gyromitra-brown, the bright red Hygrocybe punicea as medium to dark brown, the brownish Panaeolus papilionaceus is shown with a bluish gray cap, and so forth. Most of the macrofungi are shown as single fruitbodies arising from an amorphous greenish gray substrate, regardless of whether the species shown is a lawndweller, occurs on leaves or bark, or is truffle-like and develops belowground. The bluish-greenish-gray cast is widespread but is less of an issue with the microfungi, as they have much less color under the microscope. The Preface states that the images were edited in Photoshop to maximize their quality, so it isn’t clear why the colors are so far off. Possibly a difference in monitor calibration between the authors and book’s printer. But it’s a shame that the problem wasn’t caught early so that it could be corrected before the final press run.

The book was published as-received from the authors. No editing or proofreading (or color checking of images?) was done by APS Press. Although pretty much typo-free, there are some usage problems that should have been caught, such as mushroom caps being described as “viscous” rather than “viscid,” and crustose lichens described as “crustous.” It also is difficult to generalize about host associations and substrates when the species in a given genus can differ considerably from one another. It probably would have been better to say nothing in many cases where the description is overly specific, applying only to some members of the genus. I didn’t spend much time worrying about whether the classification information was up-to-date, as there is still a lot of juggling going on and it is likely to continue for quite some time. However, most of the entries appeared to reflect current opinion with an occasional oversight such as retaining Clitocybe in Tricholomataceae.

Although a book like this should appeal to a broad audience (more people need to discover that scientific names are much more approachable when one knows their meanings), it is likely to wind up mostly in academic research settings, particularly in labs that work with microfungi, given the rather small proportion of the genera that are ones that would be recognized by macrofungi people. And the terribly high price will provide a further disincentive to private ownership. I have trouble understanding how a 1700-page, two-volume, largeformat, beautifully illustrated set of books (Fungi of Temperate Europe) can be offered for about 30% less than APS is charging for this book of one-fifth the page count. It’s too bad that they don’t employ a financial model (charge less, sell more) that would allow the book to get into the hands of as many people as possible.

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi