The information below is a summarized version of one of the appendices in Pat O'Reilly's latest book, 'Fascinated by Fungi'. For full details and sample pages see our Bookshop, where you can order an author-signed copy online...
In accordance with the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN), the complete scientific name of a fungus consists of a Latinised binomial (Genus name followed by species name, using the system introduced by Carl Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum of 1753). The binomial, written in italics, is followed by the name of the authority who applied that binomial to it. The names of famous fungi pioneers who described numerous species are, by tradition, abbreviated often to just the surname - sometimes in truncated form. (see our list of standard abbreviations of authorities...)
In accordance with the ICBN, the complete scientific name of a fungus consists of a Latinised binomial (Genus name followed by species name, using the system introduced by Linnaeus in his Species Plantarum of 1753). The binomial, written in italics, is followed by the name of the authority who applied that binomial to it. The names of famous fungi pioneers who described numerous species are, by tradition, abbreviated often to just the surname - sometimes in truncated form.
Most fungi websites (including this one) and even some field guides omit the names of authorities on the basis that few amateurs have much interest in the matter of who first described a species and gave it its specific epithet. Professionals need full citations for several reasons. One species may have been named and described by two or more authorities unaware of one another’s work or not realising that the fungi were actually the same species. Even when a species was uniquely described and named by an authority in the distant past, during the intervening years its binomial name may have been altered. The full authority citation states who allocated the original species epithet and who later moved it into a different genus. (Some species have been through many such changes.) Full citations allow us to search the technical literature in order to find the original descriptions of species.
Some citations are very straightforward. For example, it was the Swedish botanist Elias Magnus Fries, in his Systema Mycologium published in 1821, who first described the Chanterelle and named it Cantharellus cibarius. There have been no changes to this name, and so it has always been simply cited as:
Cantharellus cibarius Fries
or, more commonly, using an abbreviated form of the author’s name:
Cantharellus cibarius Fr.
You won’t find Plinny or Caesar cited as naming authorities, because the ICBN rule is that (with the exception of rusts, smuts and gasteromycetes fungi, where C H Persoon’s 1801 Synopsis Methodica Fungorum takes precedence) the starting point for fungi taxonomy is Elias Fries’ Systema Mycologium of 1821. Names sanctioned (meaning that they were retained without change) by Fries in his 1821 publication still stand today, albeit with genus amendments in many instances. This applies not only to species that Fries himself named but also to species named by others, including Linneaus, before these dates. (This rule applies equally to species named by Persoon other than in categories mentioned above.)
So, for example, in 1821 the white edible agaric that we know as St George’s Mushroom was named by Fries as Agaricus gambosus. In fact this species had already been described by Linnaeus, in his Species Plantarum published in 1753, in which he called it Agaricus georgii. Fries chose not to accept Linnaeus’s epithet, and he renamed it Agaricus gambosus. Under the ICBN rules, the specific epithet given by Fries is retained today. This mushroom was later moved by Paul Kummer to the genus Tricholoma, and more recently Rolf Singer moved it to the genus Calocybe. As a result, St George’s Mushroom can be identified as either:
Agaricus gambosus Fr.
Tricholoma gambosum (Fr.) P. Kumm.
Calocybe gambosa (Fr.) Sing.
You will note that Rolf Singer’s surname has been abbreviated in the third of these citations, which is the scientific name by which this mushroom is generally known today.
Currently accepted binomial names of fungi therefore include many that were first named by authors prior to the 1821 publication by Fries or the 1801 publication by Persoon, where those names were sanctioned (retained) by Fries or Persoon. They are cited showing the original authority and the sanctioning authority. For example:
Agaricus campestris L.: Fr.
shows that Linnaeus named the Field Mushroom as Agaricus campestris and that Fries retained that name in his 1821 publication. An alternative form of writing this name, again acknowledging the original contribution by Linnaeus, is:
Agaricus campestris L. ex Fr.
In principle, therefore, there is no reason why a fungus species might not still have a name given to it by Plinny (who would have coped well with the Latin)… except that the binomial system had not been devised in Plinny’s day. That’s why there are common names but no scientific names predating those assigned by Linnaeus.
You will also see the authority reference Fr.: Fr. It is used where Fries named a species prior to 1821 and retained the original name in his Systema Mycologium. Species first named by Fries in his 1821 publication and unaltered since then are written in the form:
Agaricus augustus Fr.
All of the species named by authorities subsequent to these founders of fungi taxonomy and unchanged since are written in the form:
Russula violacea Quél.
The authority referenced in this case is the great French mycologist Lucien Quélet, who first described this brittlegill mushroom in 1882.
If people investigating fungi had all worked together, perhaps that would be the end of the matter. Unfortunately, occasionally by chance different authorities applied the same binomial name to two or more different species – in which case the names are known as homonyms and the ICBN rule is that the name remains with the fungus to which it was applied earliest; once the mistake is recognised, the other species must be renamed.
Sometimes the same species was named separately by two or more people, and then the various names are known as synonyms. Many of the fungi illustrated in this book have several synonyms, and they are all valid names under the ICBN rules. In quoting binomials I have been guided by the checklists maintained by the British Mycological Society.