|BOTANICAL ELECTRONIC NEWS|
|No. 498 November 17, email@example.com||Victoria, B.C.|
Oliver Sacks, a life member of the American Fern Society, died of cancer at his home in New York City on August 30, 2015. He was 82. Oliver was one of the world's leading neurologists and science writers, known for his many essays and books such as Awakenings, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Island of the Colorblind, Uncle Tungsten, and Musicophilia. Some of these books, or chapters in them, were adapted for film and/or stage, such as Awakenings (Robin Williams and Robert De Niro), At First Sight (Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino), and The Music Never Stopped (Lou Taylor Pucci and Julia Ormond). Since his death, much has been written about his life, but little has been written about him as a lover of plants, which he indeed was, especially of ferns and cycads.
Oliver developed an interest in plants as a boy. At age six he was evacuated from London to a school in the English Midlands to avoid the Blitz. Separated from his parents and extremely lonely and unhappy, he took solace in holiday visits to his Aunt Len's place in Cheshire. She had a garden and delighted in explaining its plants to an inquisitive young Oliver. They took long botanizing walks in the forest, stopping frequently to look at ferns and horsetails. These visits to "Auntie Len's" instilled a love for plants that stayed him for the rest of his life.
For 23 years Oliver regularly attended the monthly meetings of the New York Fern Society. The meetings take place at the New York Botanical Garden in an area just outside my office. He usually wore baggy pants, a Fern Society T-shirt, and a green baseball cap with the Garden's logo. Before and after the meetings he would come into my office to talk about plants and minerals (another interest we shared). I once showed him a herbarium specimen of a clubmoss (Huperzia) that I had identified from Madagascar. The particular species was smoked by the natives to get high. Oliver, a neurologist and experimenter with drugs (especially in his earlier days; see his book On the Move), asked me sheepishly if he could have a piece of the clubmoss to smoke and experience its narcotic effects. I declined, telling him that the specimen could not be used for such purposes and, besides that, I felt uncomfortable with him experimenting with drugs. He laughed and did not seem at all upset.
One of Oliver's lesser-known books, Oaxaca Journal, is about a ten-day fern foray to Oaxaca, Mexico, during January 2000. The trip was organized by myself and John and Carol Mickel through the New York Botanical Garden. Oliver told me that he was looking forward to seeing in Oaxaca the Tule tree, a humongous bald cypress (Taxodium mexicanum) visited by Alexander von Humboldt in 1803, who thought it might be 4000 years old. Oliver learned about the tree as a child because it was depicted in his copy of Strasburger's Textbook of Botany, and later in life he had read about the tree in Humboldt's travels. This incident exemplified how well-read Oliver was. On several occasions I told him about recently published books he might enjoy reading, such as David Lee's Nature's Palette, and Daniel Chamovitz's What a Plant Knows. In all cases Oliver had either read the book already or knew the author and/or had "blurbed" the dust jacket.
Oliver was a compulsive writer. When I picked him up at the airport in Oaxaca, he was standing at an airline check-in counter writing hurriedly in a small notebook. Felt pens of different colors stuck out of his mouth, each color (as I later learned) was used to denote various subjects such as green for plants, black for philosophy, red for cultural features. He was recording a conversation with a man seated next to him on the flight from Mexico City. That conversation was the beginning of what was to become the Oaxaca Journal. During the Oaxaca tour, I often had breakfast with him, and he would read aloud to me what he had written about previous day's events. Much of what he read is exactly as it appears in the Oaxaca Journal. He had an extraordinary ability to write a very good first rough draft.
I learned to be circumspect about what I told Oliver. He recorded nearly everything, even if off-color or personal. On the Oaxaca trip, while John Mickel was animatedly and excitedly explaining the field characteristics and virtues of a fern, I remarked to Oliver that "John is having a pteridological orgasm." That comment found its way into Oaxaca Journal. Similarly, Oliver once accompanied me to the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica where I was teaching a course, Tropical Plant Systematics, sponsored by the Organization for Tropical Studies. I told him about two students who took my first course in 1998 and got married two months later in a tree at the biological station (one of them was a canopy researcher). Later, while Oliver was recording this story in his notebook, the very student who got married walked by and introduced himself. Oliver replied, "I was just writing about you!"
In his apartment Oliver cultivated a whisk fern (Psilotum), horsetail (Equisetum), and assorted ferns. He enjoyed pointing them out to visitors, explaining how they dispersed and reproduced by liberating spores, and how the whisk fern, at least superficially, resembled some of the earliest vascular plants that first colonized the land. He especially delighted in hearing about adaptations of ferns, the fossil history of ferns, and their uses by people. He kindly wrote a foreword for my book, A Natural History of Ferns, which covered these topics and others.
In 2005 Oliver developed a rare form of melanoma in his right eye. Although treated, he eventually lost color vision and then all sight in the eye (read his account in The Mind's Eye). Tragic as this was, the melanoma, at least, seemed defeated. Things were fine until January 2015. While attending a meeting of the New York Fern Society, he got up to use the bathroom and noticed a discoloration of his urine. After seeing his physician, he learned that this was caused by the eye cancer having metastasized to his liver, and it was estimated he had less than a year to live. Within a few days, he was back to writing. He published several essays about his terminal cancer and thoughts on life in the New York Times. These essays have been collected in a book called Gratitude, whose title sums up Oliver's overwhelming feeling about his own gift of life. The essays are well worth the read for their insight and wisdom. "Above all," he wrote, "I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."
During the summer, South Vancouver Island Mycological Society (SVIMS) member Jean Johnson hatched a unique idea. Thanks to her efforts, a mycology award fund has been endowed at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Major donors to the endowed fund are Jean and Stephen Johnson, the South Vancouver Island Mycological Society (SVIMS), and anonymous friends and members of SVIMS. Jean's many legacies now include the initiation of this award named to honour the educational and scientific contributions made by Oluna and Adolf Ceska to mushrooming and mycology in British Columbia and beyond. The award will be provided annually to an undergraduate or graduate student to support their mycological research on the mushrooms and fungi of British Columbia. The endowed fund will provide one annual student award in perpetuity, so donations help support student research in mycology well into the future and pay back huge dividends in knowledge of our fungi and mushrooms.
Selected examples of work already done by students in mycology at UBC: * Common, unsightly and until now undescribed: Fumiglobus pieridicola sp. nov., a sooty mold infesting Pieris japonica in western North America. Grad student: Tanay Bose * Cortinarius species diversity in British Columbia and molecular phylogenetic comparison with European specimen sequences. Grad student: Emma Harrower * Is the booted tricholoma in British Columbia really Japanese matsutake? Undergrad student: Sea Ra Lim
The initial push for donations to reach the minimum of $30,000 required for a fund endowed in perpetuity at UBC was successful. However, we do not have to stop at $30,000; additional donations may permit more than one award per year or increase the amount of the award. To donate by mail or fax, download the Printable Gift Form (PDF) from https://support.ubc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015-16-Online-Printable-Donation-Form.pdf and send the completed form by mail or fax to:
UBC Annual Giving
500 – 5950 University Boulevard
Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z3
Be sure to make it clear (at the "Specific Fund of Choice:") that your donation is to go to the Oluna and Adolf Ceska Mycology Award (G1453). All donations will receive a tax receipt.
[We are flattered by having the UBC Mycology Award bestowed in our names. We are extremely grateful to Jean & Steve Johnson for initiating this award and to all the donors who have contributed or will contribute to it. Many thanks! Oluna & Adolf Ceska]
California mushrooms. The comprehensive identification guide. By D.E. Desjardin, M.G. Wood & F.A. Stevens, 2015. Timber Press Inc. ISBN 978-1-60469-353-9. 560 p., with over 700 colour photos. Price $60
The state of California in the western United States of America is rich in biodiversity and a wide variety of habitats. Fungi in the state are not as well investigated as plants, and only a few recent field guides to the California mushrooms exist (Biek 1984; Arora 1986, 1991; Davis et al. 2012), this in contrast to a huge number of regional and statewide floras. This new book, California mushrooms, is a welcome up-to-date addition, and the authors should be congratulated on producing this beautiful well-executed book.
The vastness and the diversity of California present one challenge to the makers of a mushroom guide. The second challenge is of a different order. It has become clear the last few years that many Californian species known by a European or eastern North American name are in fact not the same as those in Europe or the eastern USA, but species in their own right. However, many of these have not yet been properly and newly described.
The contents of the book follow the familiar set-up of guides with an introduction in which the topic is introduced, the way the book has been made is explained, a very useful introduction to taxonomy and nomenclature is given (why do names change?), mushroom ecology and biology are touched on, plus a few pages on edible and toxic mushrooms. Chapters on 'How to identify mushrooms' and 'How to use the book' are followed by the main part, 'The Mushrooms'. 650 Species of fungi are well illustrated each with in most cases one picture, and described, with in the comments on those species comparisons with other taxa that are or are not illustrated in the book. Keys to morphological groups, followed by more in-depth keys per group to species are of course present as well. The glossary of used terms, a list of plant names, references, a list of California mushroom clubs, photo credits, an index and the biographies of the authors follow the main part.
There are several things that make this book stand out among similar books in North America. Its big format (pages are 21 ? 28 cm) means that the photos are big as well, which is fantastic. The descriptions are based on observations by the authors on material from California and surrounding areas; microscopic data were recorded by the first author mainly from material present in the Harry D. Thiers Herbarium, or from recent publications from California. However, it is not clear to which vouchered specimen the photograph can be linked. The majority of the photos was taken in California. The nomenclature is as much up to date as possible, and a list of updates since the text of the book's text was finished is present at www.californiamushrooms.us/errata.html. In some cases the authors give provisional new combinations to indicate to which genus a species belongs according to the newest phylogenetic insights, and a number of yet unpublished new species names are also presented (e.g., in Agaricus where a monograph is expected to be issued soon).
This is a beautiful book that introduces the most common and most commonly encountered species of northern California. The emphasis of the book is on the areas the authors have visited most: the San Francisco Bay region, Mendocino and the Sequoia sempervirens and Picea sitchensis forests in the northwest of the state, and the central part of the Sierra Nevada. The introduction is very helpful and informative, but is written for an audience that has some background in biology. The emphasis in the keys and in the descriptions is on macroscopic characters, but in some cases microscopic characters are mentioned, but these terms are not all included in the glossary (for instance, an explanation of the term 'broom cells' is lacking). For some groups, adding a microscopic character or illustration thereof in the key would make identification so much easier. The difference between Laccaria and the Hygrophoraceae is always hard for beginners, but with the addition of the spore ornamentation of Laccaria's spores, it is a piece of cake. The same applies to the pink-spored gilled mushrooms where the different spore shapes of the Entolomataceae are mentioned in the key, but not illustrated. The species are arranged by general shape, not by their phylogenetic affiliations, so the gilled boletes are in the middle of gilled mushroom species, and Auriscalpium finds its place with other species with a spiny hymenophore, and not with its closest relatives in the Russulales. Only species that are fully treated in the book are keyed out, which limits the usefulness of the book. And though the number of species that is covered in the book is not small, many species are left out; the undoubtedly most species rich genus, Cortinarius, is represented by only 25 species, and Pluteus by P. leoninus and three species in section Pluteus.
The photos are of good to high quality showing the mushrooms well. Of course some are not as typical as I would like them to see (e.g., Mycena haematopus lacks the characteristic hanging pileus margin).
As I said, this is indeed a beautiful, well illustrated and informative first introduction to the Californian mushrooms; the book definitely will be used widely, also in the other western states, but because of its size and weight (more than 2 kg), it is not a field guide in the literal meaning of the word.
[This book was also reviewed by Debbie Viess: http://bayareamushrooms.org/education/california_mushrooms_book_review.html]
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