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CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Urban Lichens: A Field Guide for Northeastern North America

By Jessica L. Allen & James C. Lendemer
Yale University Press
2021; $26.00
ISBN 10 978-0-300-252994
ISBN 13 978-0-300-262-996
Paperback, 168 pages
Dimensions: 5.3 x .05 X 8.3 inches

If lichens are sometimes referred to as “the rainbow of the forest,” they could also be called “the fog bow of the city,” since they’re less charismatic as well as less present in urban areas. At last we have a field guide devoted to their existence in cities and also a field guide that documents the negative effect of urban pollutants on them. Is it tolerant or sensitive to bad air quality? the authors ask of most of the book’s species. Admittedly, those authors didn’t seem to have monitored pollutants and then correlated their monitoring with the occurrence (or lack thereof) of lichen species, but this is a book for citizen scientists who probably aren’t interested in statistics.

Urban Lichens is divided into three simple sections: lichen basics (biology, chemistry, morphology, etc.), species descriptions with common names in big bold letters, and an illustrated glossary and references. the book’s habitat is New York City and, in fact, the authors use a New York MetroCard for scale, but it’s equally useful for other large urban areas in North America. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and recognize a number of the species in the book from my local sauntering. Indeed, the book includes several foliose lichens that, in my ignorance, I would have called Flavoparmelia caperata, a ubiquitous urban lichen.

One of my few quibbles with Urban Lichens is the quality of the photos, especially of crustose lichens. Fortunately, there are small squares with good close-ups of most of the book’s murky-looking photos, but why, I wonder, didn’t the authors use only the close-ups? Another quibble: the book includes Phaeocalicium polyporaeum, a species once considered a lichen but now considered a mycocalicioid fungus. Although the text states that it grows on Trametes versicolor (probably a pilfer from, it’s been documented almost exclusively on Trichaptum biforme. Oh well. Lichenologists and mycologists commonly make errors when obliged to consider each other’s disciplines.

All in all, the book does a good job of investigating a bellwether of ecological health in urban areas. As lichens are slowly but surely returning to cities where the air is becoming cleaner, I can imagine a more capacious second edition of Urban Lichens coming out in the not-too-distant future. 

— Review by Lawrence Millman
— Originally published in Fungi