Recommended English Names for Fungi

Why is there any need for English names?

There are very few vernacular names for fungi in the English language - or indeed (and please do contact us if you know otherwise) in any of the Celtic languages of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Fungi seem to have had a very bad press down through the ages in the UK, and this has only recently begun to change amongst the public.

The idea of trying to make the fungi more accessible to people by using English names has been around for a long time (books as far back as Bolton's works in 1788 - 1791, attempted to introduce English names) but it was in 1961 that Large suggested that the introduction of consistent and attractive English names would do much to promote fungi. Mary English and a team from the British Mycological Society then produced a list of 200 names, many of which are still in use and were adopted by Roger Phillips in his 1981 book 'Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe'.

The increasing demand for popular field guides arising from a growing interest in collecting and eating wild foods (e.g. Richard Mabey's Food for Free first published in 1972) and the rise of TV chefs using wild mushrooms in their gourmet preparations was causing publishers problems. Most of the fungi that they wanted to include had only their scientific names i.e.. the Latin binomial naming system of Genus followed by species, thus Boletus edulis is the scientific name for the Penny Bun or Cep. The publishers were wanting English names to go with all of their fungi and, you guessed it, every book was delivering a different set of English names.

Into this confusion has come increased interest in the conservation of fungi and many other groups of organisms. People working in the various statutory agencies and also land managers, are having to deal with species of conservation concern - not just the fungi but hundreds of species from different groups all with scientific names. Hundreds of new English names can also be overwhelming but at least they have a familiar ring and there has been increasing pressure from this interest group to provide all species with consistent English names.

Thus it was that in 1996, Maurice Rotheroe (then Conservation Officer of the British Mycological Society) proposed that Mary English's work be expanded and updated. A project was funded (by the British Mycological Society, English Nature [now Natural England], Plantlife and Scottish Natural Heritage) to publish a list of 1000 English names for fungi in 2003 (Plantlife International). 500 common species and 500 species of conservation interest were chosen.

The list is not universally approved of amongst the UK mycological community - those against often say that they cannot see the point of it as there are perfectly good scientific names and that the English names are just confusing. I would suggest that the names were not designed to be used by competent mycologists going about their business and probably not for the university learning situation either although using both names can familiarize people with the Latin whilst giving them a more familiar sounding hook.

The English names have been taken up by publishing companies and field guide authors; they are welcomed by the conservation agencies and the land managing community and are very popular with most people who take public forays - new comers to the world of fungi just seem more comfortable and less overwhelmed by lots of new English names than they do with lots of new scientific names. We know that everybody can manage the Classic languages in small doses - most people cope fine with 'Chrysanthemum' and 'Tyrannosaurus' - but there is the key - those are words in frequent use.

This is about raising the profile of fungi amongst individuals who are unlikely to ever develop a deep interest in fungi, but who collectively can influence whether fungal conservation is taken seriously. Hopefully one or two might even move on to take their mycology a little more seriously.

Will more species get English names?

The continued revision and expansion of the list is an ongoing project now done in a voluntary capacity by a group of interested individuals within the British Mycological Society and in consultation with the wider field mycology community.

Because there was no attempt to exactly replicate taxonomy, the English names are linked to the fungus not its scientific name and can stay the same when the scientific name is updated. Scientific names are constantly changing at the moment with the increase in molecular investigation changing our thoughts on fungal relationships. Thus the scientific names have to be constantly updated. Revision of fungal UKBAP species and reassessments of fungal red lists also mean that new English names need to be found for species of conservation interest previously un-named. There is also a steady trickle of suggestions that are very welcome, although they need to follow the guidelines that were devised for the original project and can be accessed on the BMS Website under Resources.

How to get involved

If you are interested in devising more English names or commenting on proposed names then have a look at the 'Guidelines' and the 'spreadsheet of proposed names' given on the British Mycological Society's Website, link above, or contact Liz Holden on liz* (NB replace * with @)

Below is the revised list 'Recommended English Names for Fungi in the UK' with the scientific names updated following the publication of 'Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota' by N W Legon and A Henrici with P J Roberts, B M Spooner and R Watling in 2005.