CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Macrolichens of New England

By James W. Hinds & Patricia L. Hinds
The New York Botanical Garden Press
2007; 608p.; $65.
ISBN-10: 0893274771
ISBN-13: 978-0893274771

I've always been surprised by the omission of lichens from mycological guidebooks, especially since those guidebooks often include Myxomycetes, which aren't even in the same kingdom as fungi. Lichens themselves—or to use their full name, lichenized fungi—are members in good standing of Kingdom Fungi, and you only need to look at the cup-shaped apothecia on some of them to be reminder of this. For those apothecia are morphological indications that all but a few lichens have an ascomycete as their fungal symbiont.

Up until now, the only comprehensive guide to our continent's lichens has been The Lichens of North America by Irwin Brodo, Sylvia Sharnoff, and Stephen Sharnoff. “Comprehensive” is perhaps too mild a word for this magisterial tome, which you can use for bench-pressing as well as lichen identification. Ever since it was published in 2001, it has been called simply “Brodo.” To call a book by its author's name rather than its title, such as calling Mushrooms Demystified Arora, indicates that the book in question is indispensable.  

But now comes The Macrolichens of New England. Whereas Brodo considers all of North America, James and Patricia Hinds cover only lichens in New England, and to a lesser extent, the Great Lakes region, Appalachia, and Maritime Canada. Likewise, they consider only macrolichens—i.e., fruticose, squamulose, and foliose lichens, but not crustose species, which typically require micro as well as macro examination, along with the use of a hammer and chisel to remove them from their substrate.  

Yet in spite of or perhaps because of its more narrow focus, The Macrolichens of New England is an indispensable tome, too. The keys transport you to genus a lot more quickly than Brodo, whose keys seem to me unduly tortuous. Most of the 308 color photos are superb (a few are a little blurry). The inaugural chapters on lichen ecology, the human uses of lichens, and collecting techniques are models of their kind. Especially valuable are the inventories of rare and declining species. That one of these species, Vulpica viridis, grows only on Atlantic white cedars makes me want to go forthwith to the Atlantic white cedar swamps in my area and search for it.  

As for the identification section, it's a delight to use. The genera are listed alphabetically, as are the species. The description of each species includes diagnostic features, chemical reactions, range and habitat, and notes that give you not only lookalikes, but much else as well. For instance, I found out that the dense algal layer of V. viridis helps it adapt to its super-shady Atlantic white cedar habitat. As in any relationship, a fungus pursuing a lichenized lifestyle sometimes has to give up something to its photobiont in order to get something in return.  

Let me admit to a few quibbles, however. Specific locales aren't indicated for a number of species; my own copy has an abbreviated index (a misprint?), stopping at Leptogium; and there are a number of typos, one of which, on page 500, I found rather amusing: “Usnea hirta is found in 28 NE forest sties [sic].” Such quibbles notwithstanding, I recommend The Macrolichens of New England enthusiastically to the amateur as well as the professional lichenologist—the amateur as well as the professional mycologist, too.

— Review by Lawrence Millman
— Originally published in Fungi