Contents: The 22-page Introduction describes the area covered by the book; defines polypores with their macro and micro characteristics along with a history of their evolution, their nomenclature and taxonomy, historical and contemporary uses; polypore and host tree evolution; forest regions; types of fungal decay; collecting and preservation guidelines; tips on identification and how to use the book and its keys. Pages 25 through 57 are devoted to dichotomous keys. Species descriptions and mushroom photos are contained on pages 59 – 381. Appendices cover microscopy, chemical reagents, how to make a spore deposit, the medicinal uses of polypores, and classification of species. Additional back matter includes a glossary, bibliography, author background, illustration credits, an index to common names and an index to scientific names.
Overall, this is a beautiful, well written, informative and much needed book, the first Eastern and Central North American polypore book in color. Many of the included species are also found in the western half of North America, so this book will have broad appeal. The language is clear, with a minimum of technical jargon so this book is approachable by users of all levels. I particularly enjoyed the introduction, especially the section on fungal evolution. I learned a lot from the appendices, especially the one on medicinal uses of polypores (even though I am more liberal in my approach to potential medicinal applications). Most of all, I value having a book that updates the naming of mushrooms resulting from progress in sequencing the DNA of many of our polypores and the recognition by the authors that theirs is just a snapshot in time of a rapidly changing nomenclatural and taxonomic landscape. A lot has changed since the publication of the long out-of-print two-volume work, North American Polypores, R.L. Gilbertson and L. Ryvarden (1986).
I found the descriptions to be clear and concise, though at times would have appreciated more detail. For example, a good way to distinguish Fomitopsis mounceae from Fomitopsis ochracea is to hold a match to the colored edge near the margin. F. ochracea will char, while F. mounceae will melt or boil (do this at home, not in the woods).
The names the authors used were largely in agreement with the currently accepted names listed in Index Fungorum, though there were a few exceptions that puzzled me. For example, the authors chose to use Fomes excavates (Berk.) Cooke 1885 instead of what Index Fungorum accepts as the proper (and commonly used) name Fomes fomentarius (L.) Fr. 1849. Also, according to Index Fungorum, the accepted name for Trametes cinnabarina (Jacq.) Fr. Is Pycnoporus cinnabarina (Jacq.) P. Karst. Truncospora ohiensis (Berk.) Pilat is back to Perenniporia ohiensis (Berk.) Ryvarden.
The color photos are beautiful, generously sized, and usually provide a clear view of both the upper and critical under surfaces of the polypore. However, in a few cases of wide-spread species, the image chosen is not typical of the species as I know it. The illustration of Fomes excavates is particularly beautiful but sufficiently distinct from what I know as Fomes fomentarius that I initially thought that we were talking about two distinct species, not two different names for the same species. The Trametes ochracea image is also quite different from what I expect based on our western material going by the same name. Indeed, one value of this new polypore book is that it might help us uncover additional cryptic polypore species when a western armchair mycologist (like me) does not recognize an eastern or midwestern polypore going by the same name as a familiar species. Fistulina hepatica, as illustrated by Bessette et al., is far brighter red than any Fistulina hepatica I have ever seen. Albatrellus ellisii as illustrated on page 62 is very different in color from photos I and others have taken of this same species. Are we talking about the same thing? I am also curious about Albatrellus confluens. This is a European species. Is the eastern species the same? Curiously, I have very recently learned that our western bright blue Albatrellus flettii (a species where the blue fades in age), is a genetic match to the European Albatrellus confluens, a species that is never blue. The color of Ganoderma applanatum as illustrated is brighter than I expected based numerous western collections, collections that look closer to Ganoderma megaloma. Do we have multiple species? The authors recognize that this specific issue is a question in need of resolution. Is the reddish-brown Jahnoporus hirtus, shown on page 204 and a species reported to have an indistinct odor, the same as our western Jahnoporus hirtus, which is brown to gray-brown and often smells of iodine? The authors’ description of Laetiporus gilbertsonii fits well with our western concept of this species, but their image is of a far more brightly colored specimen. Worth looking into? Neolentinus lepideus as illustrated by the authors neither matches their written description nor our western species going by the same name. Their chosen image for Phaeolus schweinitzii is clearly recognizable as a member of the five-species complex, but it would have been nice to have used more than one image to illustrate the range of colors found in this complex, especially given the huge amount of blank space on the two pages devoted to this species complex. Pycnoporellus fulgens is another species I thought I knew well, but maybe I have never found young specimens like the ones shown.
We need to be prepared for ongoing changes and the authors clearly are alert to this issue. Fomitopsis durescens has just been changed to Pilatoporus durescens, a name proposed but not yet accepted at the time the authors were writing this book.
So far, I have skipped commenting on the keys. As a member of the Pacific Northwest Key Council since 1975, I have long been dedicated to writing and helping others write and revise keys to Pacific Northwest mushrooms. I am delighted to see that the authors devote 27 pages to detailed keys. The first page plus a bit of the second page of their key leads us to two distinctive species and 13 subkeys (Keys A through M). The keys are strictly dichotomous, like most botanical and fungal keys. All choices come in a, b pairs. Unlike many fungal keys, where a knowledge of the microscopic features is essential to proceed, the choices are based on visual characters and so the keys can be used by both novices and professionals. I liked their first and second pair of choices. Lead 1a takes the reader to Key A, a key for all species with a smooth fertile surface, while 1b leads to everything else. Then lead 2a splits out the species appearing to grow on the ground (Key B), while 2b leads to everything growing on any kind of wood. In testing out keys A and B (and C-M) I was pleased to note that usually when a choice was difficult for a reader to make, the authors had keyed out the species in more than one place. For example, if a species grows on hardwoods but sometimes also on conifers, it will appear in both the hardwood keys and the conifer keys. All good keys should use this double keying where appropriate.
Problems reared their ugly head with Keys C through M. Key C, for example, look very straightforward. The specimen must be poroid and never teethlike, or lamellate or labyrinthine. I would have stopped there with the lead and Key C would have been a substantial key with some significant branches in it. However, the authors limited this key to species with a fertile layer that was any shade of pink or bright yellow to dark red. I could live with that, except time and again I tried to key out a species with yellow, orange or red pores and it was not in Key C where I would have expected to find it. Similarly, I carefully read the descriptor for Key D and frequently tried to key out a species that I thought would be in Key D, but it was not present. Ditto for Keys E through L.
The keys would be much easier to use had the authors continued making the broad choices as they did in leads 1 a,b and 2 a,b. Instead, they resorted to heavy use of drop-out keys, where a distinctive species is described and then the next choice is often “not as above.” Such a key is very tedious to wade through and requires exceptionally close reading to navigate. I will use Key M as an example. Lead 1a goes to a choice between two species. Lead 1b is “not as above.” Lead 2a leads to one more species, while 2b is “not as above.” Ditto for paired leads 3 a,b and 4 a,b. Only leads 5a,b take the reader to a choice that divides two clusters of species. Leads 6b, 7b, 8b, 9b, 11b, 12b, 13b, 14b, 15b, 16b, 17b, 18b, 19b, 20b, 21b, 22b are all once again “not as above,” and this pattern largely continues through lead 42b (out of 44 leads in the key). I fear that most users would soon get so frustrated that they would just resort to thumbing through the pictures, a scenario neither I, nor the authors, desire.
To be clear, while I am disappointed with the keys, I love having the book. It is sorely needed, and anyone seriously interested in fungi should purchase this book no matter where they live. While many people may be reluctant to pay $65, this book is worth at least twice that. Go for it!
Review by Michael W. Beug, 2022