CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest

By Bruce McCune and Linda Geiser
Oregon State University Press, 1997
ISBN 0-87071-394-9 (Paperback); $25.95

Over the past 15 years, many colorful field guides and popular books about mushrooms have appeared in bookstores. Undoubtedly, this both reflects and contributes to the dramatic increase in the popularity of wild mushroom hunting and consumption. In contrast, interest in lichens has remained low and few popular guides have been published on these biologically and ecologically fascinating symbioses. However, if this new book by Oregon State University professor Bruce McCune and US Forest Service scientist Linda Geiser is any indication, perhaps the lichens will begin to receive more of the attention usually reserved for their showier fungal cousins.

As its title indicates, this is a color field guide to the foliose (leafy) and fruticose (bushy) lichens of Oregon and Washington; it does not deal with the much less well known crustose lichens. Given the similarity of habitats in the surrounding states and provinces, it is likely to be quite useful in northern California, Idaho, western Montana, British Columbia and beyond as well.


The book’s presentation is refreshingly straightforward and to the point. A brief overview explains the organization and the abbreviations used. The short introductory section explains what lichens are, why they are important, and how they work, then describes the various growth forms, morphological features, and reproductive strategies. All of this takes a mere ten pages and then it’s on to the meat of the book. First comes a set of keys to the 92 genera included in the guide. Descriptions of genera follow alphabetically, along with keys to species and the species accounts. Most species are treated in one page, which includes a brief description of important morphological and chemical features, an indication of air pollution sensitivity, the geographic range, substrate, habitat, additional notes, and an excellent quality color photograph and/or line drawing.

All 458 species of macrolichens reported or thought to occur in Oregon and Washington are keyed, and 210 of them are described and illustrated, focusing on those that occur in forests, are regionally common, or are of special concern because of their rarity. The keys have been in use in draft form by northwest lichenologists for several years and the feedback obtained has doubtless contributed to their effectiveness. They are clear, easy to understand, and work! My only complaint about the species accounts is that the notes could have been expanded a bit to include more extensive comparisons with similar species.

Following the species accounts, three appendices include information on acronyms and nomenclature, how to collect and identify lichens, and the use of lichens in assessing air quality. I very much like placing this useful, but accessory, information here rather than cluttering the front of the book. There is also an extensive reference list and a nicely illustrated glossary.

Overall, there is little not to like about this attractive, authoritative, and very usable new field guide. Perhaps by the time OSU Press is ready to publish its second edition, there will be enough budget and material to include a substantial number of the 248 species that didn’t make it into this edition. An excellent guide at a reasonable price; hopefully it will start a trend!

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 39:1, 1998

Buy Macrolichens (New edition)