CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Syllabus of Plant Families. A. Engler’s Syllabus derPflanzenfamilien, 13th ed.

Part 1/3 Basidiomycota and Entorrhizomycota

By Dominik Begerow, Alistair McTaggart, & Reinhard Agerer
Borntraeger Science Publishers (
2018; ISBN 978-3-443-01098-0
(xii + 471 pages, hardcover)

Gustav Heinrich Adolf Engler, 1844–1930, was a German botanist and plant geographer. His best-known publication (with Karl von Prantl) is Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien (The Natural Plant Families) published in parts from 1887 to 1911. In this work, Engler and Prantl provided a comprehensive system of plant classification that became widely accepted and was the principal one used in herbariums and elsewhere worldwide until the 1970s. Engler’s Syllabus der Pflanzenfamilien, which first appeared in 1892 under a different title, is essentially an outline summary of the larger work. Taking on a life of its own, many subsequent editions of the Syllabus appeared, and it was continued by others after Engler’s death. The most recent edition was the 12th in 1954. The 13th edition, the first in English, began in 2009 with the publication of Part 3, Bryophytes and Seedless Vascular Plants, and has continued with the release of additional parts in 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

So why are we interested in a book about plants originally written by a botanist? Because, until rather recently, fungi were considered to be plants and so they, along with cyanobacteria, algae, and lichens, were treated by Engler along with the real plants.

This is the third of three (sub)parts of the Syllabus that deal, fully or in part, with fungi. Part 1/1, published in 2012, covers, along with a variety of non- Fungi things, the Chytridiomycota, Zygomycota, and Glomeromycota. Part 1/2, reviewed in the Fall 2016 issue of FUNGI, treats the Ascomycota. Last, but not least (and actually the most, if you count pages), Part 1/3 deals with the Basidiomycota (comprising the sub-phyla Pucciniomycotina [the rusts], Ustilaginomycotina [the smuts], and Agaricomycotina [the mushrooms, in a very broad sense]) and the Entorrhizomycota.

The authors are well aware of the difficulty in producing such a comprehensive work when the classification of fungi, as well as that of other organisms, is undergoing such rapid and widespread change as a result of the accumulation of data from molecular sequencing. Thus, they view this as nothing like the final word, rather as a snapshot of a work in progress. In the Preface, the editor of the series (Wolfgang Frey) describes the new edition of the Syllabus as “Following the tradition of Engler, and incorporating the latest results from molecular phylogenetics and phylogenomics, this completely restructured and revised 13th edition provides an up-to-date evolutionary and systematic overview of the fungal and plant groups.” As was stated in Part 1/2, “phylogenetic revisions have revolutionized the systematic classification of taxa from phylum to species level and a new understanding of fungal evolution and species delimitation has emerged. These new insights are here treated in an integrated context of morphological and molecular data, providing an up-to-date synopsis … while acknowledging that the systematic classification of this group of Fungi is not yet fully settled.” The latter is somewhat of an understatement.

Be forewarned, this is not an enthralling page-turner unless you happen to be an ultimate taxonomy nerd. It is a reference work that likely will sit on your shelf until you need to learn something about a basidiomycete whose name you have encountered for the first time or to find out who is thought to be close cousin of whom, especially in light of the decreasing degree to which macro appearance is thought to faithfully reflect evolutionary relationships. Following a one-page Introduction (Chapter 1), Chapter 2 provides a succinct summary of the phylum, Basidiomycota, basidiomycete morphological characteristics and life cycles, ecology and distribution, and systematic arrangement of taxa. Given the tiny size of the Entorrhizomycota, two genera and 15 species, it receives only occasional mention. (By the way, this phylum includes species that occur within the roots of sedges and rushes. They are thought to be parasitic and cause the formation of galls on the root tips. Here the group is included in Dikarya, along with the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota, but that placement should be considered tentative.) Chapter 3 consists of a 7-page synopsis of the classification of the Basidiomycota and Entorrhizomycota, the latter consisting of a mere six short lines of text. Chapter 4, Systematic Arrangement of the Taxa of the Basidiomycota, makes up the bulk of the book (more below), Chapter 5 does the same for the Entorrhizomycota, and Chapter 6 gives us nine new or amended sub-classes or super-orders. A list of references for the figure captions and an index to taxa complete the book. General references are placed throughout the book after the appropriate sections.

Following the outline provided in Chapter 3, Chapter 4 cycles through the subphyla, classes, orders, families, and genera, providing brief descriptions of each taxon, numbers of lower-level taxa within them, and reference citations (there is a huge number of them). Having descriptions of genera is a welcome change from the Ascomycota volume, in which descriptions were provided only to family level. The addition of these descriptions accounts for the much higher number of pages in this Part, even though Basidiomycota contains far fewer genera (~1840 vs. ~6100) and species (~36,000 vs. ~57,000) than Ascomycota. Within the subphyla Pucciniomycotina and Ustilaginomycotina, the entries are arranged alphabetically. Within the Agaricomycotina, the higher-level taxa follow a phylogenetic order, whereas the families and genera are arranged alphabetically.

Illustrations are placed at the end of major sections, and include color photographs, black & white photographs, line drawings, and phylogenetic trees. Most of the photos and drawings are grouped into plates (although they are referred to as “figures”) that typically include a dozen or more individual images that principally illustrate macroscopic and microscopic morphological features. Though individual images mostly are rather small, they are of good to high quality. My only reservation is that, in cases where the subject is relatively large (like many of the mushrooms, for instance), it is very difficult to see much detail.

Those with an interest in the entorrhizomycetes will probably not find this volume worth the price given that their fungi merit only two pages of coverage. However, it will be a necessity for anyone making a serious study of the basidiomycetes and will no doubt find a place in most university mycology labs and libraries. I view the inclusion of genus descriptions as a major benefit likely to increase the usefulness of the volume relative to its predecessors. Although it could well come in handy for many non-affiliated folks, the price is likely to prevent it from finding its way into the personal libraries of most amateur mycologists.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Fungi