Themed Essay for The Caribbean Writer

Perceptive Eyes – Securing botanical memory of time and place in Saint Lucian forests.

Howard Fox

Travel article / Personal history / Activism / Essay

Our commitment to Saint Lucia began in March 2007 when we bought tickets for a holiday there. The airport that we were going to was cheerfully called UVF. This airport stood out from competing destinations as as a troubles-free an exotic location as one could possibly imagine, on that damp grey day in Enniskillen when we dipped into the travel agent’s office to escape. Being academically minded with two decades of survey experience, we felt we could contribute knowledge of our chosen subject – botany, and more specifically – lichens, to benefit the citizens of this nation, independent and emerging from colonial rule since 1979. At that time, we had been aware of only 3 lichens catalogued from Saint Lucia[1] and another 2 lichens from ‘Recent Literature on Lichens’ online[2] – so we felt we could make a contribution to knowledge without even the slightest Rastafarian hassle. Our holiday was to be a botanical trip to see lichens, just as an Irish birder[3] might imagine going on holidays to see tropical birds[4].

Before we left Ireland, we checked through the literature of lichens more thoroughly in the botanical research library where I work in Dublin, and we found in a paper saying that 693 specimens were in East Lansing in Michigan[5]. We uncovered that the label details of these herbarium voucher packets had been released online in 2005[6]. This gave us a sound academic basis for Saint Lucian knowledge of lichens, which we could bring with us.

When we landed in UVF Hewanorra, we were greeted with that seering damp early afternoon tropical heat we hankered after and an aroma of ripe vegetation. While getting the hire car for our week, we began to notice some lichens on the shade trees in the car-park. The tour around was frantic spending a day each at Mamiku with Dennery River, Palmis, Gros Piton, Edmond, Cas-en-Bas, Grande Anse, Barre De L’Isle and Balenbouche. On the Friday after the Gros Piton climb, we visited the Soufriere Library to hand over the information we had on the lichens to the librarian there, Ms Charles. We were advised to meet a leading forester who lived in Soufriere. In the evening, we found Michael Bobb, assistant Chief Forest Officer. After an hour’s wide ranging discussion on lichens and the ailments of post-colonial societies on the veranda with Michael, he convinced us of the need to make a lasting commitment to lichen research in Saint Lucia. A few days later, we stayed in the guest house of the leading local botanist, Roger Graveson, and discussed how forest botany research could be advanced by herbarium visits and cajoling the European Union and national governments into funding forestry research initiatives like COFORD does in Ireland. It was not until our last morning with Uta Lawaetz in Balenbouche that we really felt our eyes were fully perceptive and seeing lichens. But, then in the afternoon we were gone, back via London, to Ireland.

Taking Roger Graveson’s advice, in September 2007 for my next holidays, I visited Chicago and went on by train to East Lansing to see the lichen herbarium. The lichen curator there was Alan Fryday, whom I knew from January meetings in London, and after five days looking through the collection, I had some idea of the Saint Lucian and Antillean lichens in general. This turned out to be an essential step in my education. Working on this resource consumed the intervening years. In 2009 the ‘National Forest Demarcation and Bio-Physical Resource Inventory Project’[7] was undertaken in Saint Lucia. This forest botany research provided a context for all historical lichen collections that informed our first paper[8] which we submitted in mid January 2014.

Preparation for the second visit in February 2014 included the making of our herbarium workbook[9] and this ‘perceptive eyes’ essay. An early draft was read in Saint Lucia by Chris Virgine Sealys, the forester who looked after us in the field for 2 days at Piton Flore and Barre De L’Isle and helped with plant quarantine permits. This second trip replenished our specimen supply to satify our intellectual curiosity. We had some really amazing days in the field, including one of the best, descending an ephemeral stream bed with occasional pools at Trou Gras[10] hoping silently never to see the Island’s only poisonous snake, a Fer de Lance.

Transmission to new people knowledge of lichens, and how to see them, is our overarching goal. This communication challenge requires our reader to step back from the detailed speciality of botany and think that they are about to read an inspirational literary essay on travel, and hear our call to intellectual discovery and enlichenment[11].

In our future vision of the Caribbean, from the perspective of a ‘randonnée pédestre dans le forêt’, we see perceptive eyes, with delicately tuned minds, telling much of the lichens of the dacite rocks on the volcanic core of the Summit of Gros Piton in Saint Lucia. The linguistic handles for lichen thallus forms in French, English, Dutch and Spanish and their creoles are a necessary vocabulary to admit lichens into ones mentality. Such arcane sonic botanical Latin words of the early 19th century science are seldom spoken, and, if spoken, seldom heard. The utterances of a botanist, such as Eric Acharius from two centuries ago, are needed in the polyphony. Let us read, in our minds, these words: apo-thec-ia, bia-tor-ine, lec-an-or-ine, leci-deine, ex-cip-le, lir-ell-ae, th-elo-tr-eme, dis-co-carp, py-reno-carp, peri-thec-ia, per-id-ium, thallus, fru-ti-cose, fol-io-se, crust-ose and pyc-ni-dia [12]– the arcane technical words that make lichen study tractable. Go again, West Indianize them yourself in that swedish-lilted Latin two centuries old, syllable by syllable.

Lichens are those visual memes of memory and of life, seeds sown as ascospores on barren ground, on the surface of trees and rocks that exist literally biblically unsung. They give to tree bark and to leaves that aesthetic of old age, time stains, of slow intermittently growing life. The knowledge of lichens has been organised for several centuries by the enlightenment since Linnaeus and Acharius, but their insular scholars in the Caribbean remain on that mysterious fringe of academia, literature and oral culture[13]. The sovereignty of botanical species for any nation is a future – a biodiversity future – designed for cultural assimilation and use, to be cared for as part of the patrimony of each island of the Antillean arcs. Lichens are colonists of islands too, geologically from the first vegetation on Saint Lucia which appeared in a Miocene epoch, about 20 million years ago, as the Antillean islands emerged from the ocean. Lichens, on trees and rocks, also exist in time and place and memories.

Education in botany is about passing ideas from one person’s mind, in order to benefit and enlighten a new person’s mind. Lichens exist in place and time in a forest for a short while, for a decade or two, while they live and reproduce. They are dependent on trees for their standing, way above ground in the air. They can disappear from a site when trees are felled. Individuals live and breed together so species populations are sensitive to forest clearance and disturbance, and can be found unmoved in the one part of a forest, decades or even centuries later, from when they were first noted in that precise geographic area. Species close to waterfalls have been noted on the same individual tree almost 90 years later[14].

Developing the ideas on what the species are, what they actually look like close up, and how they are distinguished from one another, has been a mission for the minds and collective memory of botanists for several centuries. This defining moment of naming a species was a visual exercise in description that began in Latin – the tongue of 19th century science. From mid-19th century, microscopic measurements of ascospores were admitted[15]. Line drawings and colour printing in books illustrated lichens[16] before photographic cameras, computers and the internet[17]. The technology nowadays for passing on taxonomic ideas and species lists[18] has never been better, but the methods for successful enlightenment are the same – an eager curiosity to know.

A well organised taxonomic mind of a field botanist, during his or her career, contains knowledge that takes days upon days to transmit in any apprenticeship[19]. The inquisition of plants with perceptive eyes is an outdoor curriculum in life-long learning considering all minutely observable forms and their meanings. Such perceptive observation draws us and drives us along a long slow winding footpath through the rainforest of the island. There is the graphical glossary of terminology to get with, a collapsible hierarchy of Latin names on recall, for each species and genus and family, and a geographical content of the historic species observations by other botanists before us to transmit.

Educational transference, and its potential for failure between generations, is one of the most keenly felt cultural losses in any society, in this 21st century age of biodiversity extinction. To stop the unwise use of culling particular natural resources, through biodiversity offsets or any other measure, many minds in the Caribbean need to contain a pragmatic knowledge of the plants of, and their locations on, the Caribbean islands. A stand of the medicinal fever bark cinchona or in kweyol ‘china’ has been lost, in forest clearance for banana growing, from the Mamiku valley and bushes remains in the Praslin valley, the next valley to the north.

I am not an expert on the early part of tropical history of lichens. Sloane of the Sloane’s of Sloane Square published in 1696[20] the first contribution to the knowledge of lichens in the Caribbean. To a freed up mind, the study of lichens in the 18th century of the Caribbean might also begin with Patrick Browne of County Mayo who wrote a Natural History of Jamaica and was the inventor of the globally used lichen genus name Cladonia P.Browne 1756[21], a little bit of Irish culture in the global bio-informatics computer age.

Many people have contributed to the Caribbean lichen exploration[22]. In the 1780’s a Swede Olaf Swartz[23] was responsible for describing new to science species such as Leptogium azureum, arguably one of the most elegant lichens in the Caribbean biota. In the 1820s and 1830s, Fée made a study of lichen specimens on cinchona bark from the tropics that were in samples in the Material Medica of apothecaries in Paris and Geneva[24]. Memories of place and time from the 18th century and the 19th century are hazy, as are those from the early part of the 20th century. The technical description of specimens forms the kept and transcribed memory, our botanical taxonomic legacy of species description. There were contributions by Edward Vainio, father of Brazilian lichenology[25], who reported on samples from Dominica and St. Vincent[26], and from Guadeloupe and other Antillean islands like St. Croix[27]. These specimens of Caribbean lichens from before 1950 are mainly in European herbaria, in London, Helsinki, Turku, Uppsala, Stockholm, Geneva, Paris, Munich and so forth, as well as in North American herbaria such as the Farlow in Harvard, Field in Chicago, Smithsonian in Washington DC, New York Botanic Gardens in the Bronx, East Lansing and Ann Arbour in Michigan[28].

To my lichenological mind, modern memory of time and place in starts back in the 1950’s when an ambitious graduate student Henry Imshaug began his study of Caribbean lichens. He realized that in order to be able to identify lichens from the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Mexico, Central America and the West Indies, he needed to do a catalogue of everything ever known for the three regions[29]. In those years, the starting point was Zahlbruckner’s mammoth 10 volume Catalogus Lichenum Universalis[30]. Henry set to with this Caribbean research and collected lichens in Grenada and Jamaica in 1952 and 1953 and worked up the specimens of a common genus, Buellia[31], those lichens with black discs on an ashy grey green thallus, when dissected out show 1-septate ascospores internally, that can live naturally on the bark of Coconut palms by the sea shore subject to the diurnal flow of languid sub-tropical breezes, so favoured by that Irishman Lafcadio Hearn[32] who visited Martinique in the 1890s. By 1957, Imshaug had persuaded the Institute of Jamaica to publish his best known classic work, Catalogue of West Indian Lichens[33], which gave bibliographic and geographic information on 1751 lichen species from the Caribbean region.

Moving his study along, Imshaug also realised that in order to understand, with his set of named conceptual boxes for species, without going to Europe to see the original specimens, it was very difficult to be absolutely certain what was meant by each one of the 1751 lichen names in the work of previous botanists. He needed to have a sound specimen basis from the Caribbean on which to base the taxonomic decisions on what name to apply to extensive sets of recently collected specimens. Henry decided to tour the Greater and Lesser Antilles on an almost year long lichen collecting trip in 1963, bringing his son Frederick with him. They were meticulously well organised while visiting the Caribbean Islands with their sampling and specimen numbering and drying. Every day, a log book[34] was written up. This is now preserved with the specimens in the Michigan State University in the botanical herbarium there. Tens of thousands[35] of voucher specimens were prepared, labelled and studied under the microscope and by chromatography by Henry himself until about 1978. Imshaug never published much on his own collections, and from the 1950s to the 1970s was the principal academic globally who was interested in and knowledgeable about the species of Caribbean lichens.

Henry’s research interest focus moved on to the problems of lichens from the South Atlantic and Sub-Antarctic Islands through the 1980s. Henry retired in the 1990s, and the university lichen herbarium lay in abeyance until a new lichen curator Alan Fryday was appointed by the university in the early 2000s. A major electronic specimen cataloguing initiative was funded and undertaken and the identification decisions made by Henry Imshaug and a wide range of collaborators were posted online in 2005[36]. This lichen data forms the main resource used by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and is now part of the National species Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs) of many Island nations from the Caribbean.

My own interest in Caribbean lichens was whetted in 1991 when I visited the North Coast of Jamaica. We based ourselves in a rented villa near Discovery Bay, the landfall of Christopher Columbus, and each day I sallied forth with a hammer and chisel, a penknife, and some collection packets studying the lichens of the landscape around Discovery Bay in St. Ann Parish. There is some amazing karst dry forest just to the west of here with Petractis farlowii. Happy days of an endless summer! One day on a march through the Cock Pit country in Trelawny Parish, I collected a specimen of what is now Catapyrenium squamellum on a soil ledge over the limestone[37]. This specimen was identified by Othmar Breuss, who since made a major contribution to Costa Rican lichenology[38].

I had Some Florida lichens[39] and thought I could make progress with the Jamaican limestone biota. Richard Harris really is one of those interesting characters in lichen studies of Eastern North America. As the East coast of America is mainly temperate, the sub-tropical flora of the south of Florida is a floristic anomaly that requires careful taxonomic consideration. Harris wrote and updated keys to hundreds of lichen species from Florida and wrote a key to about seven hundred species in the New York herbarium for a workshop in Puerto Rico[40]. The upstroke from this flurry of taxonomic organisation was to make Caribbean lichenology tractable again, from its era of impossibility which reached up until Imshaug made his identification decisions in the 1970s.

In 2010 a Tuckerman field trip with about 20 participants focussed on a few spots in the Everglades of Florida at Fakahatchee to reveal about 450 species in a week or two[41]. This work has now been assimilated by Fred Seavey and his wife Jean, in Florida, where they have set up an active lichen laboratory in the Everglades for exploring the lichens of sub-tropical Florida[42]. The Puerto Rico lichen training workshop in 1988 attended by Harrie Sipman and André Aptroot among others who went on to publish studies on the Lesser Antillean island of Saba[43]and the lichen genus Pyrenula[44] respectively. Harris’ Puerto Rico workshop two decades later spawned a thesis, website and paper on the history of lichenology in Puerto Rico[45] by Mercado-Díaz who is now employed by the Institute of Tropical Forestry.

Maria Cullen and I had opportunity to work on Caribbean lichens in the month before I took a career break, from the Office of Public Works, National Botanic Gardens in the spring of 2007, to start on a postgraduate research project in Trinity College Dublin. This study of Saint Lucian lichens has been very engaging, but we are still faced with the same pervasive memory transmission problem as faced by Imshaug, of understanding the meaning of all the species names from all the earlier botanists[46]. Some of the geographies get lost in translation[47], but now with Google Earth and geo-referecing, all localized historic data can be plotted. We are now at the stage of having submitted for publication a national checklist for Saint Lucia reporting the identification’s specimen basis[48]. While over 60% of species are known from just one locality, we are claiming the first records of nearly 20 species from Saint Lucia from our 2007 collections. Of these one species Ramonia rappii is essentially a Floridan species[49], from a tree trunk at Balenbouche, Laborie, Saint Lucia, – a collection nigh impossible to an untrained or unperceptive eye.

In the 1970s, a Professor of Botany Dag Øvstedal of Bergen in Norway began a research interest in the Antillean lichens[50], and fell in love with the forests of Guadeloupe. While an inconspicuous part of the biodiversity of the forests, lichens were easily collected from tree bark and dried. His studies continued unannounced for three decades on his specimens, working with leading European and North American taxonomists in revising samples. An avid watercolour painter, Dag produced illustrations of the surface views of some 220 lichen specimens and the microscope views of ascospores and internal details in his amazing publication: The Lichens of Guadeloupe, French Antilles, published by the Bergen Museum, with a copy deposited in the National Library in Paris. A French botanist Olivier Bricaud studied forest lichen vegetation independently[51] on Guadeloupe[52]. This has now brought on Øvstedal’s taxonomic work to a new ecological level, associating lichen species composition with the forest vegetation formations in which such species grow.

So what now, what for the future of the Caribbean lichen taxonomic enquiry, and spatial memory for lichens and what for forest conservation activity. I have put up a blog on the Caribbean Literary Salon[53], now run by Kris Rampersad of Trinidad, so that the Arts community realise that lichens exist in forests. Local scientists such as the Saint Lucian botanists and collectors Melvin Smith and Roger Graveson[54] curate and develop the botanical knowledge.

Taking into inspired minds ‘Scholarship of Lichens’ for each of the Caribbean Islands is clearly the next step in biodiversity sovereignty transfer. Montague Kobbe in writing about living in Anguilla argues that islanders need to embrace and cherish the local, and dismiss the Northern mental impositions[55] from their minds, to enjoy the pace and quality of life. Passing on the baton of traditional taxonomic knowledge of the scientifically described lichens, worked up at microscopes from centuries of botanical vacation trophies in herbaria in Europe and North America, to make known species known can be achieved in educational training courses. These could be run locally in Saint Lucia in places like the Arthur Lewis College at Morne Fortune whose campus has an interesting assemblage of lichens. Elsewhere, there are opportunities to teach in The University of the West Indies campuses in Mona in Jamaica, Cave Hill in Barbados, or St. Augustine in Trinidad.

One can imagine the Saint Lucian collectors[56] puzzling over bark and leaves, facing a novel inquisitive mental life of taxonomic learning and decision making on the identity of voucher specimens. People with the daily power of proximity to forests and to tree branches and evergreen leaves on each island are sought. One needs to be comfortable walking in and making geographical explorations of the forests, with whatever Fer de Lance that may defend them, with a drive to satisfy ones curiosity.

Results can be shared by dissection and examination of lichen samples under the microscope, and with the passion to illustrate them in line drawing and colour[57]. With online publishing[58], one can readily communicate findings into the international biodiversity and taxonomic enterprise of knowing what species lives where. Some understanding of how lichens complete their life cycles in various places in the forest ecosystem [59]will help the conservation agenda, so that these spectacular and subtle patterns of lichens on tree bark and leaves and shady rocks can be cared for, interpreted and assimilated into the accepted cultural values of the multicultural society that is the Caribbean.

The agenda of education in botany is to provide the next generation with the tools they need to manage the natural living plant resources of earth. This case study of Saint Lucian forests demonstrates how those readers in the literary arts like the Caribbean Literary Salon as well as the graphic arts like the Irish Society of Botanical Artists[60] can connect with science. We can share and endorse research agendas to achieve politically satisfying results of rainforest conservation through activism in policy organisations like Forest Stewardship Council[61]. It also shows that environmental activism can be highly effective on the ground when those, under the yoke of colonial rule and repression, confer as on a veranda in Soufriere, to produce a work on lichen identification some years hence. The need of developing countries for educational tools in botany[62] can be met when floristic botanists engage artists and illustrators in biodiversity inventory research. The function of literary essays such as this is to seek support for and engage with the literary arts to generate public intellectual support from the wider society in Dublin.

Sometimes the Irish discourse can be one of the best political stimulants for guerrilla activity in science. We cut our teeth on all taxa biodiversity inventory in Brackloon wood[63], County Mayo and by mid decade, we needed to escape Ireland with the tropical forest inventory concept. Our start on Saint Lucian forests in 2007 began in an Enniskillen travel agent by choosing to go to UVF[64]. With a public intellectual role in botany in Dublin with perceptive eyes for lichens[65] now that the concept of ecological restoration is being debated is a pleasant turn.

Maybe you as a web blog reader can do something positive to assist retaining lichen habitats in the tropics, now that you understand the cultural context that of the identification of organisms as an altruistic service developed by scientists for society plays within economics and the humanities. The scientific inventory of natural resources is an ethical objective we hold for land and forest stewardship. The market failure of taxonomy combined with BioBlitz[66] events ensure that traditional identifications services remain economically unviable, apart from that provided by a few taxonomically minded scientists in public service. Hopefully into the future within the concept of natural capital values[67] will help fund inter alia the creation of plant identification tools and the use of skilled scientific labour for species identification for natural resource assessment.

About the Writer:

Howard Fox is a botanist at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin 9. As a writer, he was editor of the newsletter of Dublin Naturalists Field Club newsletter from 1998 to 2005. He has been a member of the Caribbean Literary Salon since Autumn 2011. He occasionally attends the Ardgillan Writer’s Group in Fingal on Saturday mornings. He has written with Maria Cullen on the lichens of Saint Lucia. He also writes conversations, essays, speeches, poetry and short stories about botany and perception themes on his lichenfoxie blog and for the radio.

Cited References:

[1] Imshaug 1957 Catalogue of West Indian lichens

[2] Recent Literature on Lichens is an online bibliography of over 40,000 lichen references. Searches on authors and years in this databse will elaborate bibliographic details of references cited in these footnotes.

[3] The Tolka Branch of Birdwatch Ireland has its indoor lecture meetings in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.

[4] Caribbean Literary Salon,

[5]Fryday & Prather 2001 Bryologist 104(3): 464-467.

[6]Johnson, Fryday & Prather 2005 The Michigan State University Herbarium Lichen Database.

[7]FCG International Ltd, Helsinki, Finland was a contractor to the Banana Industry Trust, Castries, Saint Luciafor thei EU funded project.

[8]Fox & Cullen 2014 Harvard Papers in Botany 19(1): 1-22. [30 June 2014]

[9]Fox & Cullen 2014 Lichens of Saint Lucia – Herbarium Workbook. 158 pp. Privately published, Stamullen.

[10] Fox & Cullen Lichens of Saint Lucia, public lecture, Glasnevin 23 April 2014

[11]Goward 2014.

[12]Acharius 1798, 1803, 1810, 1814.

[13]Sloane 1696, Browne 1756, Swartz 1788, 1791, Fee 1824, 1828, 1837, Vainio 1890, 1896, 1915, 1923, 1929, Evans, Imshaug 1955, 1956, 1957, 1963 and Harris 1989, 1990, 1995.

[14]Fox, personal observation, Platismatia glauca on Oak at Powerscourt Waterfall; Smith & Knowles 1926.

[15]De Notarius 1843, Massalongo 1852.

[16]Fee 1824-1837, Mitchell 2009.

[17]Aptroot & Sparrius 2014.

[18]Johnson et al. 2005 [see footnote 2], Fryday 2007 Fox & Cullen 2008.

[19]Harris 1989, Lucking 2008, Lucking et al. 2011, Fox & Cullen 2014 Herbarium workbook.

[20]Imshaug 1957: 3-9.

[21]Browne 1756, James in Smith et al. 2009. Cladonia.

[22] Imshaug 1957. Catalogue of West Indian Lichens.

[23] Swartz 1788, 1791.

[24] Fee 1824, 1828, 1837.

[25] Vainio 1890.

[26] Vainio 1896. Journal of Botany

[27] Vainio 1915. Additamenta ad Lichenographiam Antillarum illustrandam. Helsingforsiae.

[28] Imshaug 1957. Catalogue of West Indian Lichens.

[29] Imshaug 1955, 1956, 1957.

[30] Zahlbruckner 1920-1950. Catalogus Lichenum Universalis. 10 voulmes.

[31] Imshaug 1955 Farlowia

[32] Lafcadio Hearn, 1890. Two years in Martinique.

[33] Imshaug 1957 Catalogue of West Indian Lichens

[34] Imshaug 1963 MSU herbarium

[35] Fryday & Prather 2001. Bryologist.

[36] Johnson, Fryday & Prather 2005. Michigan State University herbarium database

[37] Breuss 1999.

[38] Breuss 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006.

[39] Harris 1990 Some Florida Lichens.

[40] Harris 1990, Some Florida Lichens, 1995 More Florida Lichens, 1988, Puerto Rico Lichens.

[41] Lucking et al. 2011 Fakahatchee

[42] Seavey 2012 Florida

[43] Sipman 2007 Saba

[44] Aptroot 2008, 2012. Pyrenula

[45] Mercado-Díaz et al. 2009a, 2009b, 2010.

[46] Fox & Cullen 2014 Herbarium Workbook

[47] Imshaug 1963 Collection book in MSC, Michigan State University herbarium

[48] Fox & Cullen 2014 Harvard Papers in Botany

[49] Harris 1995 More Florida Lichens

[50] Øvstedal 2010 Lichen of Guadeloupe French Antilles

[51] Øvstedal, e-mail to HF

[52] Bricaud 2007, 2008, 2009. Lichen in Guadeloupe forest vegetation.

[53] Caribbean Literary Salon and Leaves of Life – Howard Fox

[54] Campbell 2013 Zing magazine.

[55] Caribbean Literary Salon and Leaves of Life – Montague Kobbe

[56] Campbell, 2013 Zing magazine.

[57] Schumm & Aptroot 2012. A microscopical Atlas of some tropical Lichens from SE Asia. 2 volumes.

[58] Johnson et al. 2005, Aptroot & Sparrius 2012.

[59] Goward 2014. The Ways of Enlichenment.

[60] Irish Society of Botanical Artists

[61] Forest Stewardship Council, Ireland.

[62] Lawrence & Hawthorne. 2006 Plant Identification. Creating user friendly field guides for biodiversity management.

[63] Fox, Cullen, Little, Cuiaruz, Doyle, Dwyer, 2001. Forest Ecosystem Research Report 31

[64] UVF is airport code for Hewanorra International Aiport in Vieux Fort, and an acronym for the Ulster Volunteer Force.

[65] Paddy Woodworth 2013. Our Once and Future Planet cites the Brackloon wood ATBI in his book.

[66] National Biodiversity Data Centre runs Bioblitz events for heritage sites such as National Parks.


Ardgillan Writers Group Blog II

Peeing on Seaweeds – an open apology to persons unknown.

Not far from where we are now sitting in the Brick Room, I invite you to imagine the Lifeboat House and the views to the Mournes from our walks around the coastal paths of Red Island. Looking nearer, we can see the rocky shore north and east of the Lifeboat House here, is an exposed, slippery, slithery shore with a brown kelp forest exposed at low tide with bladder wrack in rocks above. Walking here among seaweeds and rocks is for the sure footed, for those who can cope with an occasional fall.

Seaweeds detached from the rocky coastline of Red Island in the littoral, the sub-littoral to sub-tidal zones can drift in the sea water, past hardy frosty swimmers, and wash up in cast lines along the South Beach, when the high tide turns. Twice daily, this line of seaweed is fresh gift from the sea for scrutiny by dogs, walkers and storytellers.

Oberon, a three and a half legged, black and white border collie, loves going for his walk on the South Strand, once or twice a week, on the weekday evenings after work, or on a Saturday before or after lunch in Skerries, we all have the opportunity to walk a section of the one or two lines of cast up seaweed.

Seaweeds on the strand line of the beach are green, brown or red – green like the sea lettuce Ulva or the green tassles of Enteromorpha; or brown, like channelled wrack or Pelvetia from the rocks, knotted wrack or Ascophyllum, serrated wrack and bladder wrack or Fucus, fluted oar weed or Saccharina, northern kelp or Laminaria, or sea spaghetti Himanthoria. The red ones are special like the dilisc flaps of Pepper Dulse, or the tiny red epiphytic ones that colonise the stems of old brown feaminagh, like the red Polysiphonia on the batons of kelp or old stems of wrack.

Released from his responsibilities of driving a white van along the windy shore road under the bridge from down the hill from Ardgillan, Oberon arrives in Skerries harnessed and restrained on a 7m retractable lead, ready for his Saturday Walk.

Sure footed, leaps three and a half legged from the cabin to the pavement and up onto the grass. We cross the path, through a gap in the oak baton slatted fence, onto the dunes and down onto the sand. When Oberon arrives bladder full, the seaweed line is quickly targeted. A three second pee, and a splash here and there, after sniffing the seaweed’s potential. The browns of Fucus serratus and Ascophyllum nodosum are the prime targets.

The long batons of the Kelp are a suitable beach toy and plaything of this Ballyanne, New Ross dog. Hurled lead length away, Oberon scurries to retrieve. The more ramified clusters of Ascophyllum are brown bubbly floor mops, when hurled wet land slap on the sand. They are soon behind his canines, in a premolar 1 and 2 grip, as he rat-tossles them hydra-like, shaking the seaweed to within an inch of its rat-tailed life. ‘Those imaginary rats must be really terrified of you, Oberon’

Oberon’s walks on South Beach have passed off without incident, a meeting with Harley, a stop, chat and parley about dogs and peeing on seaweeds, or whether you have more than two dog poop bags, when Oberon goes thrice.

In conversation, peeing on seaweeds is an ideal theme for opening caint with dog owners. Imagine yourself saying ‘Does your dog pee on seaweeds too. I have just noticed that he did. How interesting.’

This day a man in grey trousers fell into conversation on the South Beach. We were so engrossed in the caint about peeing on seeweeds that Oberon took an unbidden liberty. He wet him through to the leg. So, what do you do. Offer to have his trousers taken to the cleaners, or be taken to the cleaners over his trousers? I must say caint about ‘peeing on seaweeds’ worked, and we negotiated for an exemption on the grounds that they were grey work trousers.

When the man got home to his wife, we can imagine the conversation.

‘How was your walk?’

‘I saw you talking.’

‘Did you meet anyone interesting.’

As she continued her Saturday morning house chores, she said.

‘Do you have anything for the washing machine?’

What happens in Skerries, stays in the Brick Room.

© Howard Fox, 26 July 2014, 766 Words

Read at an Ardgillan Writers Group function at the Brick Room – Saturday 26 July 2014

Ardgillan Writers Group Blog I

Kuki-cha Monologue

Sipping kuki-cha from a glazed mug.

Wafts tempt a Tineidaean flying

with hot draughts of elixir;

an organoleptic inhalation of …

petiole liquor steam,

equally sensed by antennae and noses.

Roast hazelnut skins of an aroma

tasting of young hairy edged beech leaf.

Leaves wrapped in manilla origami,

strung from a beechwood chest,

unctuous tea, to rival Paraguayan holly infusions.

Lukewarm, nut cream truffle flavours

perfect for an evening in, of reflection,

as the light caustics guide tea drinking,

cooler, thirst quenching, too,

to the last tongue-tooth slosh.

© Howard Fox, 2014


Read at Charleville Castle at the ‘the night before christmas eve’ concert – Wednesday 23 December 2015



Caribbean Literary Salon Blog VIII

‘Assimilation of all things lichen was part of my third level mission – an obsession of my late teens.’ He regaled.

‘I mined the institutions for insights. The checklist model made me focus on the genus as an intrinsic unit of intuition and the species was one of degree, incremental difference that carved up the variation seen along traditional lines. Thallus and fruitbody form, ascospore size and chemistry, but then I turned ethically organic. So no more lichen chemistry as a diagnostic tool. No K, C or Pd allowed in all his anti-Nylander-ian contrariness.’

‘I still do some chemistry, Iodine in Potassium Iodide to show amyloid carbohydrates in fungal cell walls of the apices of octosporous asci.’ He said.

‘How does that obsession drive you now?’ She asked.

‘I feel for the intellectual space of developing countries, where the species are known by few, and their meaning is uncertain due to the failure in oral, cultural and graphic communication. The scientific interpretation in writing is a shorter text than an artist would paint when observing, so it is just a catalogue of scientific details, study after study, method after method, until one knows the entities that are there.

‘The history has to be clean, crisp. The novelties are those in the literature that one follows. If one is to create literature, one needs to look and write and interpret and explain and be charismatic and persuasive. All these are overlapping skills, which one has to withdraw from ego-lessly, to learn the truth from the specimen flow.’

‘The fear of looking is why we wrap our packets in paper.’ He said.

‘Over familiarity does not allow us to keep separate the forms expressed and collected on the day in the life cycle when we saw them.’

~ ~ ~ ~

They were walking down the stream bed, passed water filled pools, puddles in an otherwise dry rocky stream. Two ephemeral streams merged at a prominent boulder and his worry increased, but he said nothing. He had never seen a Fer de Lance.

You-tube, viewed in retrospect, showed a 15 second clip of a coiled snake that lunged open mouthed at prey.

Snakes are maligned creatures, furtive now or else machete’ed to death by bipedal predators.

They walked machete-less down the stream, merrily without a dream. He was determined to never to admit being edgy about Fer de Lances.

~ ~ ~ ~

A few days later he admitted his concern.

‘Remember those pools in the ephemeral stream at Trou Gras. Do you think that is the sort of place for a Fer de Lance to bask in the tropical heat, close to the water?’ He hissed to her.

‘I was worried about the Fer de Lance too. Why did you not say anything? She asked.

‘I did not want to worry you unnecessarily, as the habitat was too good. I felt that any interruption and we would not have made such a thorough lichen collection.’

The lichen collections from Trou Gras were actually first rate. We had Arthonia, Arthothelium, Thelotrema, various Graphis and Pyrenula species. When they got back they would tie up the loose ends.

~ ~ ~ ~

A week later he met an older man walking along the lane by the main road, with two armfuls of plantains that he was carrying to feed to his pigs.

He stopped and asked him:

‘Are there snakes at Trou Gras?’

‘Everywhere you turn.’ He replied.

~ ~ ~ ~

Howard Fox, July 2014, 593 words.

Views: 1

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog VII

In the evening sun

sipping a glass of rum

bringing a bit of heat to my cheek

the left ear hot and sizzled

the right lobe breezy in shade

looking out on the deck to the bay

elbows comfortable in my chair

a poet’s clipboard above my knee

sharpened pencil galloping across

line after line of words

imagining being at Marigot Bay

Pencil grip firm in the heat

now with a sun burned cheek

Pour me some more rum

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog VI

Parataxonomy and Optical ambition

Microscopy of mountain land

ascospores sizes of all fertile crusts

slides and cover slips

ascus photomicrographs neatly

measured by graticule

each volcanic island, measured and compared

Vincent versus Lucia, unequal effort provides history for each hypothesis

a species concept for insularity

in the tropical heat, Soufriere’s whiff in a cauldron of lichenological creativity

Dominica’s thelotremes versus Guadeloupe’s, Martinique versus Grenada

An Atlas for a young intellectual’s eyesight.

Attached to a tree

Crustose blade attacks

Sovereignty transferred to a museum sector

types and standards measured immaculately

the taxonomic exploration for an island,

one genus and family at a time,

foretold in forests.

[On the scientific ambition of many years work]

The Dunsany’s Ending

Charon rowed his Pirogue mirthlessly across the Styx

The dull pains in his athletic arms ached and

his face grimaced at each passanger like they both had

for thousands of years of time.

The routine of fifty souls from the island a day had increased for a month

to thousands and then declined to almost none.

In a week without calls for crossings, his time weary aches eased and he thought

‘The ways of the gods of this time on the island were strange’

At the end of the journey across, one shadowy soul whispered

‘I am the last’. Charon concentrated on the final strokes ashore,

and with a withering swish of his oars, Charon smiled at him.

[After Lord Dunsany’s prose poem Charon, 1910]

Sundown at Marigot (continued)

Heat that warms your bones

Incandescent backbone aches melt away,

earlobe breezes startle irregularly,

your shadow shades the grass, denies them some evening pleasure

as a cloud crosses to melt the shadows away

Grass blade quivers, waiting until the fall of day

Look back at grey clouds, absorbing the sunlight like a sponge

fluffy and hey, I need to get back to Marigot some day

Pacing around, pencils clipboard bound

with a luminous brightness the clouds will release thee soon

while I wait, a few drops hiss on the hair on the back of my knuckle,

and others miss in their entireity

Mew heat to keep the spirit flowing

and calm, warm and glowing

would the clouds ever part

and give me a new blast from Icarus’ Inferno

to melt the waxes on skin

that a few moments ago I was sunbathing in.

Pacing works, movement allows

the reassignment of sun to your back

exercise and territorial tresspass

allow your shadow to shade the road

greenery released to double one’s pleasure.

May the tarmac boils subside while I am outside

getting a penetrating fourth verse

of a submission to Saint Somewhere

as a cloud whimsys away across

a blue azule backdrop.

For eventually I will get to Marigot

On one fine evening

The bone heats and ear sweats dribble,

while the draught of the tipple burns away at the gullet

as there is a verse to do.

May the sunshine in Marigot this evening

as I imagine it to.

[First verse posted on CLS,  September 2012]

This is not a Mosquito

In Bed with Byron, writing in pencil

children are safe and the wit is instead.

Hail fair mirror where is dost cobweb

above your head saliently moved above the head board

preserved but moved acting with coughs similarly

tucked up in bedlam

the fly makes it across

Rain on the roof, a squib of a shower, the pencil chop sticks

alternate points keeping the writer hewn close to the sharpener

Oh – where is this going, this errant verse

matress sprung knuckles bouncing pencils crossed above

sprung in cotton, comfortable in bed

exhale what cotton what crisp comfort against the skin

a parable of a poet watching a fly traverse towards the cobweb

and exit stage left.

banded abdomen of a nematoceran fly with haltomeres

a dipteran cigar now rests on the sloping ceiling

in for the night as far from the light as is safe

knuckles spring thud in between the beat of the lines

writing is all in the head

what emerges on paper is just that, if it is let flow,

short words selected by texting

the little ways of saying shortly instead. Not a Mossie.

Longwinded maybe but longworded no

it is the style of the composition

that what you are used to allows

why don’t you write in Patois

and let us hear that voice

subsumed with explosive friccatives rupturing through your lips

It is hard to imagine the sound in a sweet carib voice

without the shortened syntax to go with the reading out loud.

The voice is so distinctive

it must have a metrical metre

to turn those ears around.

hark, listen to the phone conversation in the far room

drawing to an end in agreement over earlier daily rows

why does a fan of verse

worry how it will turn out

when all that matters is getting it written

and let others figure what it is about

writing a poem, some say,

this will do, hey

Number the page in the beginning

crosssed pencil slip in an extra s

excessm this metrical metre has

a caribbeanness, composed for a salon of salubriousness

where comment is stiffled by literary politeness

while a few rauckous members sribble away, posting notices of their output.

The reader counter is addictive

maybe you have to read it twice

we are all inveterate readers no matter what it is about !

Oh what whimsical fantasy is going to emerge

from this session of scribing

I must post my Dunsany

a place in the county of Meath

a poem with a chilling ending of a civilisation

Where is the draft I have written

dropped carefully on the floor by the bed

pencils write vertically while biros are disastrous in bed

What do you do when you run out of paper,

to put the composition in the writers atellier

a quick raid from the printer, keeps us going ahead

The rhythm of the writing to keep everything going smoothly along

rushing down the page in a different way,

puts the ache in the arm rather than on the hand grip.

The sound of the paper is thinner,

now that I have reached the last page

There are opposite sides to be covered

if one needs to go on.

The sound of scribing is a tonic to the soul before sleep

let us type it in in the morning and let us see where we get

encouragement is unnecessary for one with a voice

but welcome when it is not given in jest

for what a poet needs is just some acknowledgement

a few readers smiles as you struggle along digesting this

[Vikram Seth’s novel ‘Golden Gate’ is masterclass in prose poetry]

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog V

See the diversity

Stopping by trees

focussed on individuals

thalli of colour and form

units of biology

living on bark

in community patterns

related to the conditions

that surface offers for life;

here where the thallus lives.

Grouped through the ages

into genera, the observer

sees, into species that

require a chemist’s senses

What are the intrinsic,

and what are the extrinsic?

the factors that make life here.

A spore grows ontogenetically in

a place suitable for juveniles once

a place where the thallus can fruit

complete the life cycle as the

substrate changes over the years.

Habitats in the forest

are not the easiest

for a tourist to imagine

Night, rain, heat,

sun-flecks, trunk axil

seeps. What can

the resident islander see?

Host trees each

one, watching the

variation intrinsically

as the extrinsic is

thought to differ,

wetter, western, trunk

age, all to genus

as grouped by the observer

all to species if thalli numbered

and patiently seen.

Choices of vegetative reproduction

geometrically tangential to the

surface of the tree, rain

drips and seeps apply chemistry

what bacterifuge is necessary

for life at the surface

of this thallus here. Taxonomic

identity comparison one against one

one has observed before.

Taxonomic insight takes patience

in the forest to see

In the dark shade, the

warm sweats drip and blur

the optical aids vision

of the intrinsic, minds

free for the extrinsic

wondering about the daily

routine, here at this

thallus, physiology.

How does it manage a

shower, how does it manage

at dawn, noon and sunset?

When does a vector interact?

Is the surface alive with

an ant? How sour is

the rain that passes

over? Where do those

tree mists flow in

the valley, where

does the night dew fall?

Does the tree canopy

harvest occultly the

clouds here or

what is this surface

like, leached or


When to move

on to another thallus

to start the routine

again. How slow

do we move in the

forest to see

that thallus taxonomically

Give the pin a number

and write all the answers

methodically of a mindful of

questions organised scientifically

So what is your method

as you are wandering about,

for the method controls the

enlightenment your mind

can perceive. Focus on the

intrinsic, answer the

extrinsic litany.

Start a new thallus

then on, methodically,

until the day is

done. Stand still if you can see

a thallus is front of

you. Move over

barren ground, those

quadrats need scrutiny,

several a day if you are

able, until a week is

done. They say seven

weeks is enough to get

you to the front line.

Look at bark, imagine

the chemistry. Add weather

and dendritic geometry

for then you will see

like a forest master.

One plant whose flower

has never been seen

by mankind, then

you will see the once

off. Taxonomic

insight watching for

the raw edge between

hypothesis and reality.

The anomalies need recording

as they are scientifically,

new, new to science.

Walk, observe, stop, observe,

patiently repeat your litany.

There are hundreds of forms

on the trees of the islands.

How can you see them all

and challenge them for their

reality. Imagine the

muriform, imagine the simple

and where they would start life

on this surface, where do we

look on a tree, to see you.

Once the taxon emerges, then

the botanical use starts, a

predictor of environment on

the surface of a tree

united by physiology

a tolerance of life

nearby, one thallus to

the next, what differences

intrinsically emerge

and can be put down

to extrinsic causality.

Seeing in the forest

with the patience of

a forest master enough

to create a mythology

for an island’s culture

one thallus, one kind

Reality envisioned

and communicated internationally

in lingua latin

The name of species is such.

It is here, pantropically

If you can imagine

the chemistry of

bark in the tropics –

Plant host family

at a glance –

lines of an obsessive

romance with

a subject.

The insights that emerge in

free verse, summarise the

methods we can use to

seek enlightenment

in the forest. Why not

climb a tree, spend

time in the photophilous zone

with varieties of me, zip-lining

is too quick, a mental blur

hanging about the like a sloth

optically observing, remembering

the geography of where on the

island you saw a thallus like that.

This matching mismatching

mentally such names

as we have to handle the

forest, like a forest master,

and create a biological

mythology all carefully

attested in reality.

Deconstruction to unity

reassembly to botany.

Let us see these patterns

as vegetation, patterns

in the forest, visual memes

to stop your walk, so that

you see, the


Walk on

now, go

again to

the wilderness

and watch

the forest.

Pencil to

note your reactions

in your mind

stimulated by

your senses.

Walk on,

see the


Howard Fox, 16 iii 2013

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog IV

Electric Blanket Heat – an Antillean subversion

Below the line, the temperate editor lurks

words in edgeways that never confine

the theme to direct for us, conversation

needs to be sublime, before subtexts can

emerge from a twist of that random lemon

bitter zest, acerbic, pillow scratching, backbone

against backbone, watching for subversion.

Heat from the matress sheets seeps into my hip bone

Prolonged weight transmits pleasure of the electric

blanket, below a duvet. One sided, unsatisfactory tropical

heat in a cold airy bedroom. Feet swim in top cold

exploration of polar reaches, of the other’s off half’s half.

Cold arches rub, move and warm toes as towards

sleep slips a muse, watching for subversion.

Shadows of tossled hair on a blank page

disguise an earlobe in a newly read verse.

Horizontal composition of vertical lines

of edgeways letters that nicely rhyme.

The hazards of a back lit, blank page.

Oberon wolf dreams, backbone against backbone,

in the night light, watching for subversion.

Oberon whistles by my shoulder nasally, pillow

bound puppy, some months accustomed to a

comfortable bed. Dog smells waft through nose

inhalations, elbowed as the cold hand writes

in pencil on a folded A4, ooh, an overheated hip.

Time to turn it off, and turn in. Unsatisfactory,

untropical subversion for the real Antillean heat.

Views: 51

Tags: Poetry, cold, heat, temperate, tropical

Comment by Will Gentieu on April 13, 2013 at 9:33pm

Oh, but quite satisfactory,

this tropical version, not a lemon,

but a lime, drifts on warm gulfstream currents

from caribbean climes, to be washed ashore, perhaps,

at Oberon’s feet in a midsummer night’s dream,

of botanical gardens, lianas and bougain-

villea, spirits that flourish unbridled,

without glass, without walls in

the real Antillean heat!

Saludos ~

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog III

In a crystal blue sky

Pink flamingos, they fly,

At Salinas, they strut by,

In Araya.

‘neath the Coccoloba shade,

Pink daquiris and lemonade,

wine sipped and music played

In Araya.

Flamingo go go, Flamenco go go

Venezuelan lullaby

Arriba !

Flamingo go go, Flamenco go go

Venezuelan lullaby

Arriba !

Girls in pink feathers dance,

Brown eyes hint at romance,

If you dare to take a chance,

In Araya.

Bleached driftwood on the shore,

leaves you dreaming of more,

and that girl you adore,

In Araya !

Flamingo go go, Flamenco go go

Venezuelan lullaby

Arriba !

Flamingo go go, Flamenco go go

Venezuelan lullaby

Arriba !

(c) M.Cullen & H. Fox, 2012

Views: 43

Tags: Araya, Course, Flamingo, Hanly., Library, Malahide, Mick, Songwriting

Comment by Will Gentieu on April 14, 2013 at 5:30pm

This could be the Venezuelan sequel to Lord Invader’s (Rupert Grant) famous calypso “Rum and Coca Cola”. (!)

And I’m just not sure what I think about that… !

Caribbean Literary Salon Blog II

What (unfinished)

Relax, take it easy, calm your mind, not so fast.

Time is a healer, on your day off.

Isolation is unneccessary, censure is intolerable.

Talk in friendliness about anything,

compose something, talk it out loud,

for your sanity demands it,

connect with other souls, talk about modernity.

Listless in the heat, brain fry complete

deep breath, take it easy,

calm down, not so fast.

Take a walk to a tree,

use your eyes for an exercise

to see what is a twig,

develop the vocabulary to communicate

about an entity external to me,

keep going, screening with your eyes

until you have seen something you did

not know exists, now

take your time, really take it easy,

look at nature, calm, with your mind.

Recreation in nature is an inquisitive enqiry,

what is it like ?

Use your mind to describe this entity,

maybe do a dissection, or a drawing, or a painting,

or a photo, if you are impatient.

Make an image in your mind to communicate with the future

so that we can speak of the same entity,

in the same language, in the same words,

to some other soul, for we are all kindred.

Minister some spiritual kinship, by mentoring

this exercise in clarity, calm from the anxieties

of a distressed mind, a bit of visual yoga.

All you need is a tree, standing nose to a low branch,

shortsighteness helps, and tropical sunlight, to give good acuity,

for to see what is this entity, before me.

I am not the first to need something external,

to drive my tortured concerns away, but perhaps

with the spark of curiosity, looking is something my eyes can do

mindlessly, contribute kinship with that entity,

that needs a bit of dew, and respect too.

Calm the mind from its anxieties

is the exercise here, a diversion perhaps

if it works perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

the scales on the eyes of your perception,

will need a gentle rub, why torture your mind,

with intolerable situations, take a deep breath

and let it all go, keep your eyes open, and

release yourself from the tyrrany of why.

Why, for you have now delved

into the torture of what !

(c) Howard Fox, June 2013

Views: 43

Tags: poetry, tree, visual, yoga

Comment by Howard Fox on June 7, 2013 at 9:16am

In composing this piece as a reaction to Roger Carter’s Why (unfinished), I am conscious of writing the same poem, again and again, on the Caribbean Literary Salon site, with different words. Such a preoccupation it has been warned against, and is common among those who express ideas in lyrical and poetic forms. My concern with the cognitive method of botany is pervasive and a difficult theme to escape from and a lot more needs to be written on this theme. I am also drawing on a conversation with a retired bryologist, Donal Synnott, over the use of the words tyrrany and torture – in botany, the need to provide polite society with scientific names for plants could be considered a tyranny or torture, formalised in binomial nomenclature by Carl Linnaeus, over 250 years ago. The predictive nature of the species and generic hypotheses of science is profound and a pleasure to use. Now we are in the midst of a phase of accommodating genetic information in the botanical synthesis to the detriment of a classical botanical education in morphology or form. In providing this stimulus to Caribbean botany, I trust this Salon will appreciate how to assimilate plants into their national cultures, and this will encourage a few who on the fringes of a botanical enlightement, might take cognitive steps in their observation methods to improve their perception for and respect for plants, that possess a subversive lack of an obvious utilitarian role in the society we live.