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CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Polypores and Similar Fungi of Eastern and Central North America

By Alan Bessette, Dianna Smith, & Arleen Bessette
University of Texas Press
ISBN 978-1-4773-2772-7
Hardback; 448 pages/309 Color Photos
2021; $65 USA

Cause for celebration! At long last, a companion to Leif Ryvarden and Robert Gilbertson’s two volume classic North American Polypores. A companion with superb color photographs and extremely up-to date taxonomy as well. Leif Ryvarden himself wrote me to say that he considered Polypores and Similar Fungi of Eastern and Central North America “a valuable book.”

The new polypore volume’s front matter provides a useful introduction to polypores followed by 32 pages of dichotomous keys. !e main section has 240 species listed alphabetically, so there’s no hopping back and forth to the index, an exercise common in guidebooks. !e species descriptions include macro- and micro-characteristics, chosen habitats, and closing remarks. the “similar fungi” in the title are a handful of crusts (example: Xylobolus subpileatus) and tooth fungi (example: Radulomyces copelandii). the back matter includes microscopic information, the chemical reagents useful for identifying polypores, a glossary, and a bibliography. this back matter also contains the best essay I’ve read about the medicinal uses of polypores. In addition to more or less common polypores, the authors include many species seldom if ever included in guidebooks. Here is only a partial list of those species: Gyrodontium sacchari, Bjerkandera fumosa, Foraminispora rugosa, Tyromyces kmetii, Buglossoporus (= Piptoporus) quercinus, Inonotus cuticularis, Loweomyces fractipes, and Daedaleopsis septentrionalis. Such species are either uncommon or overlooked, but their inclusion in the book will doubtless create an awareness of them and perhaps even help determine their status. Who knows, several of them might even be IUCN Red Listed as a result.

I should indicate that very few resupinate polypores are included in the book. Indeed, the word resupinate itself seldom appears in the species descriptions. the authors seem to have a prejudice against this morphology, perhaps because resupinate species aren’t as overtly charismatic as, say, a Ganoderma. In the introduction, they observe “Most known polypores are bracket or shelf fungi” in spite of the fact that most known polypores are resupinate. thus the book doesn’t include such exclusively resupinate genera as Junghuhnia, Lindtneria, Ceriporia, and Wolfoporia, the last of which should have warranted a mention if only because of its sclerotium (known as “tuckahoe”). Nor does the description of species like Heterobasidion irregulare indicate that they can often be resupinate as well as sessile.

Polypores are ecological warriors. Many are excellent recyclers; the root rotters create trunk breakage, an action that results in diverse microhabitats; the heart rotters support a variety of forest fauna; and by infecting older trees, so-called parasites open the forest canopy for younger trees as well as ground plants. the book describes white rot and brown rot, but it hardly goes into the ecological value of polypores. I know what you’re thinking: this is a guidebook, so it doesn’t need to discuss such matters. Maybe, but maybe not. Personally, I think any contemporary book about fungi should discuss their ecological value, given the currently beleaguered state of our planet.

And now for a bit of nitpicking. In its discussion of Poronidulus conchifer, the book doesn’t indicate that the cuplike morphology is that species asexual phase. the pores of Gloeophyllum sepiarium are typically lamellate rather than labyrinthine. Phlebia tremellosa is marcescent, so it fruits year-round rather than (as the book states) from “summer—early winter.” Chaga should not be described as the “pseudofruitbody” of Inonotus obliquus unless it releases pseudo-spores, which it doesn’t. Tyromyces kmetii can now be found in several northeastern locales (I recently found a specimen in Grafton, Massachusetts) rather than only in Ontario, the locale cribbed from Ryvarden and Gilbertson. Phaeocalicium polyporaeum rarely occurs on Trametes versicolor fruitbodies except in recycled mycological papers.  Polypores and Other Fungi of Eastern and Central North America is indeed a cause for celebration, but I’d like to replace the exclamation point I gave that phrase at the outset of this review with a period. Even so, it is still a valuable book, one that will increase your knowledge of polypores significantly. By all means, purchase it!

— Review by Lawrence Millman
— Originally published in Fungi