CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Plant Galls

By Margaret Redfern
New Naturalist Library, 117
2011; Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780002201445
562 pages; paperback; $45.00

As a plant pathology student back in grad school, I became familiar with the few dozen common plant galls that the average Midwestern homeowner was likely to find afflicting their tree or shrub, and which would be sent to the plant disease diagnostics lab for identification and prognosis. This exposure was enough to scratch the surface of a huge group of pathogens of plants, caused by disparate groups of organisms, primarily fungi and insects, but just about every other creature as well (bacteria, viruses, nematodes, mites, even other plants). I’m sure there was a CRC compendium I could have tracked down in the library but never did. A few times a year, every year since I graduated, I’ve been asked to ID some plant gall and had to jog my memory or give my best guess. So, when a few years ago the good people at the California Natural History Guides published their Field Guide to Plant Galls of California and Other Western States, I immediately purchased a copy. And although geared to the West, this book works very well for plant galls found across North America. Besides being organized as a good comprehensive guide (more than 300 species are covered), the Guide does a good job at briefly discussing the life cycles of the varied groups of gall-making organisms. Still, I’ve always wished there were some companion to this field guide that could more thoroughly cover the life history and science of these fascinating parasites. Presenting the perfect companion to the Field Guide: Margaret Redfern’s comprehensive Plant Galls.

Plant Galls is essentially a text book on the topic with excellent illustrations and well-written text that’s comprehensible to anyone, no matter if you’ve never even set foot in a college classroom. Fungi make up a good chunk of the coverage, but by no means all, mind you. There are sections on all the other major groups of gall causers. Plus fascinating sections on how galls are caused, the evolution of the many different gall inducers, and even the many symbioses involved. Did you know that some insects that cause galls to form on plants, bring their own fungi along, that the fungi grow inside the galls, and that the insects then feed exclusively on the fungi growing inside the galls? You will marvel at a totally other world, hidden from most of us. Food webs of inquilines (insects that feed exclusively on gall tissue); insect parasites that seek out the larvae of gall-inducers; hyperparasites that attack the larvae of the parasites. From “Virescences and Witches’ Brooms” to “Pits, Blisters and Pouches” and from roots and stems, up to buds, leaves, and fruits, it’s all here. The last two chapters take the reader in a totally different direction, but are just as interesting. “Galls and People” covers the ethnobotany (ethnocecidology?—did I just coin a new term?) or use of galls for nutritional, medicinal or other uses by people. “Galls in History” documents the long history of cecidology, or study of galls, dating back to at least Theophrastus in the 3rd century BC.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi