Petter Adolf Karsten (1834-1917)

P. A. Karsten – the “Father of Finnish mycology” – is one of the most notable among the mycologists of all time.

Karsten concentrated on the mycoflora of Finland, particularly of his home region. However, the results he achieved usually showed universal validity: fungal taxonomy was very imperfectly known in this period, and the fungal species possessed wide distribution areas that exceeded political boundaries.

Towards the end of the 1800s, mycologists world-wide were well acquainted with Karsten’s scientific contributions, and his taxonomic views were readily adopted by many. A large proportion of species described by Karsten remains valid.



The progenitor of the Finnish family Karsten was Henricus Carstenius a.k.a. Henric Carsten(s) (-1614) who was born in northern Germany. He worked as one of the mayors of town Helsinki. The family also has Swedish birth but is Finnish for the most part.
    The relatives of P. A. Karsten include the scholar Rafael Karsten (1879-1956), a cultural anthropologist, ethnologist, religion historian, sociologist and philosopher. He became famous especially for his studies on the aboriginal peoples of South America. The Finnish mycologist and botanist Harri Harmaja (1944-) is remotely related to P. A. Karsten.

Curriculum vitae

Karsten was born in Merimasku, near the large metropolitan centre Turku. He took a Master’s degree at the University of Helsinki, but his lifework was performed at Tammela, an inland locality of southern Finland. His scientific research was done alongside his teaching duties as a lecturer in botany at the Mustiala Agriculture Institute (now the Faculty of Agriculture of Häme Polytechnic).
    Karsten’s work as a mycologist was done within a small region. The only longer expedition that he undertook was to Kola Peninsula, which he did in his youth. Nevertheless, he worked with materials collected by others in, for example, Siberia, France and Brazil.

Scientific output

As compared with most contemporary mycologists, Karsten described many new fungal genera, often by ‘splitting’ existing genera. Some of his new genera have only recently been reinstated, as molecular methods have confirmed that these long forgotten taxonomic decisions were indeed based on true phylogenetic relationships.
    Karsten worked with most fungal groups, both macroscopic and microscopic. He is among the first mycologists to systematically use microscopic characters in species descriptions. He described roughly two hundred new genera and about two thousand new species and lower taxa. The author citation of P. A. Karsten is "P.Karst.". He compiled comprehensive mycological contributions on a regional and national scale, in addition to preparing many shorter papers investigating Finnish species. Karsten also contributed the exsiccatum work “Fungi Fenniae exsiccati” consisting of mainly Finnish specimens collected by himself.


Karsten collected a vast number of specimens representing all groups of fungi. His collections are now housed in the Botanical Museum of the Finnish Museum of Natural History.

Created January 8, 2003. Latest revision May 4, 2009.