Elias Magnus Fries (1794 - 1878) - a brief biography

Fries as a young man (Public Domain image)

Elias Magnus Fries (pronounced 'Frees') was born on 15th August 1794 in the little town of Femsjö, in the Småland region of southern Sweden, an area particularly rich in fungi - as indeed it is even to this day. It was this opportunity, plus the botanical education that he received from his father, the pastor at the church in Femsjö, that fostered what was to become a lifelong interest in fungi and the study of what today we know as the science of mycology.

Fries entered Lund University (as indeed had Linneas before him) in 1811 to study botany, in which subject he graduated 1814; his dissertation was on the flora of Sweden. Upon graduating he was made an Associate Professor of Botany and, in 1824, Professor, a post in which he remained until 1835. While at Lund, Fries produced his groundbreaking three-volume Systema Mycologicum (1821 - 1832) - a 'System of Mycology' - in which he - Classified fungi by the physical characteristics and forms of their fruitbodies - in particular the spore colour and the structure of their spore-bearing surfaces (gills, pores, teeth, folds, smooth surface etc, termed the 'hymenophore'). This seminal work is the foundation of much of modern mycological taxonomy for all except three groups of fungi (for which Christiaan Hendrik Persoon is the undisputed founding authority).

In 1834 Fries was appointed Associate Professor of Applied Economics at Uppsala University, and in the same year he became member of the Linnean Society.

His position at Uppsala was changed to Professor of Botany and Applied Economics in 1851. (Some time before Fries, Linneas had also held the appointment of Professor of Botany at the same university; some years later Thore Fries, the son of Elias, held the same chair.)

Elias Fries also produced several other works on fungi and on European lichens, as well as major publications on the flowering plants of the whole of Scandinavia.

Fries as an old man (Public Domain image)

The picture above is of Elias Magnus Fries as an octogenarian. Note the young man's enthusiastic twinkle in the eyes of the old man. Still at Uppsala, he worked tirelessly and by all accounts happily right up to his death on 8th February 1878.

Other Positions and Awards

Director of the Uppsala University Botanical Garden

Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Foreign member of the Royal Society of London

The abbreviation Fr. is used to indicate Elias Magnus Fries as the author when citing a botanical or mycological name.

Major Mycological Works

Observationes mycologicae (1815)

Systema mycologicum (1821–1832); in three volumes

Elenchus fungorum (1828)

Lichenographia Europaea (1831)

Epicrisis Systematis Mycologici: seu synopsis hymenomycetum (1838)

Monographia hymenomycetum Sueciae (1857 and 1863); in two volumes

Sveriges atliga och giftiga Svampar (1860) - with colour plates!

Monographia Hymenomycetum Suecicae (1863)

Hymenomycetes Europaei (1874)

Selected Sources:

Journal of Mycology 2(8) 1886

Descendants of Elias Fries - www.eliasfries.org

Fascinated by Fungi, 2nd Edition, Pat O'Reilly 2016, reprinted by Coch-y-bonddu Books in 2022.

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