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CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Poroid Fungi of Europe

By Leif Ryvarden & Ireneia Melo
Published by Fungiflora, Oslo, Norway
2014, 455 pages
ISBN 978-82-90724-46-2
to order a copy, contact:
(NOTE: second edition available from Fungiflora)

For most mycophiles, polypores occupy at best a marginal existence compared to fleshy fungi. I suspect that one reason for this is the paucity of literature describing them, not to mention the difficulty in obtaining that literature. The polypore “Bible,” Leif Ryvarden and Robert Gilbertson’s two volume set North American Polypores, is currently out of print. I have loaned out my own set so many times that it needs radical spine surgery.

But now comes a splendid successor to Northern American Polypores — a large format (29 cm. by 20.5 cm.) 455 page tome entitled Poroid Fungi of Europe, by Leif Ryvarden and Portuguese mycologist Ireneia Melo. How, you might ask, can a book about European species be a successor to a book about North American species? The answer is simple: there is considerable species overlap between the two realms, a fact that the text invariably indicates by pointing out (for instance) “Circumglobal in the North Temperate Zone” or “Cosmopolitan species, recorded from all continents.”

Unlike the earlier book, which had no photos, Poroid Fungi of Europe has color photographs for 394 species, including such rarities as Polyporus pseudobetulinus, Skeletocutis lilacina, and Junghuhnia lacera. That these photographs are first-rate should come as no surprise, since the person who took them, Tuomo Niemelä, is at once an expert photographer and perhaps Finland’s leading mycologist. This means he knows exactly what morphological features to highlight when he points his camera at a fruiting body. There are no generic pileii depicted in this book…

Without a microscope, it’s almost impossible to identify many polypores, especially resupinate ones, and here again Poroid Fungi of Europe excels. Each species is accompanied by a detailed description of its hyphal system, basidia, and basidiospores, along with — when necessary — its setae and cystidia. The line drawings of these features are every bit as good as the line drawings in North American Polypores. They’re highly artistic, too. Upon gazing at the section through the trama and hymenium of Boletopsis grisea, I thought: Wassily Kandinsky!

In an email to me, Leif Ryvarden (I probably should call him Sir Leif, since he was recently knighted for his mycological work by the King of Norway) wrote: “I think that over time there will be two parallel systems, the one for identification, the other for studies of evolution.” His book, which he describes as “a manual for identification,” sits firmly in the former camp. There are synoptic keys for families, genera, and species, along with descriptions of basidiocarps, substrates, and — very important for the North American mycophile — distribution. The “Remarks” sections are particularly useful. Here’s an example: “The large sappy and partly waxy basidiocarps [of Tyromyces fissilis] that dry with considerable shrinking … make this rather easy to recognize.”

The 38 pages of front matter include information on morphology, decay characteristics, pathological properties, and advice on how to collect polypores. Lest you think this is going to be as dry as the front matter in similar books, let me offer you a quote from the “advice” section: “To the collector of wood rotting fungi, rolling over a large log … is an exciting experience akin to opening a Christmas present. When conditions for the fruiting bodies are really good, any red-blooded mycologist working with these fascinating organisms finds it difficult to quit as long as one more log remains to be rolled over.”

Enthusiastically recommended for polypore aficionados, budding polypore aficionados, and all mycological libraries.

— Review by Lawrence Millman
— Originally published in Fungi