Perceptive Eyes – Securing botanical memory of time and place in Saint Lucian forests.
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 and another 2 lichens from ‘Recent Literature on Lichens’ online – 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 might imagine going on holidays to see tropical birds.
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. We uncovered that the label details of these herbarium voucher packets had been released online in 2005. 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’ was undertaken in Saint Lucia. This forest botany research provided a context for all historical lichen collections that informed our first paper which we submitted in mid January 2014.
Preparation for the second visit in February 2014 included the making of our herbarium workbook 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 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.
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 – 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. 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.
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. Line drawings and colour printing in books illustrated lichens before photographic cameras, computers and the internet. The technology nowadays for passing on taxonomic ideas and species lists 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. 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 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, a little bit of Irish culture in the global bio-informatics computer age.
Many people have contributed to the Caribbean lichen exploration. In the 1780’s a Swede Olaf Swartz 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. 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, who reported on samples from Dominica and St. Vincent, and from Guadeloupe and other Antillean islands like St. Croix. 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.
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. In those years, the starting point was Zahlbruckner’s mammoth 10 volume Catalogus Lichenum Universalis. 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, 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 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, 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 was written up. This is now preserved with the specimens in the Michigan State University in the botanical herbarium there. Tens of thousands 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. 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. This specimen was identified by Othmar Breuss, who since made a major contribution to Costa Rican lichenology.
I had Some Florida lichens 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. 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. 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. 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 Sabaand the lichen genus Pyrenula respectively. Harris’ Puerto Rico workshop two decades later spawned a thesis, website and paper on the history of lichenology in Puerto Rico 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. Some of the geographies get lost in translation, 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. 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, 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, 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 on Guadeloupe. 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, 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 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 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 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. With online publishing, 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 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 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. 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 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, 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. With a public intellectual role in botany in Dublin with perceptive eyes for lichens 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 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 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.
 Imshaug 1957 Catalogue of West Indian lichens
 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.
 The Tolka Branch of Birdwatch Ireland has its indoor lecture meetings in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin.
 Caribbean Literary Salon, http://caribbeanliterarysalon.ning.com/profiles/blogs/flamingo-go-go
Fryday & Prather 2001 Bryologist 104(3): 464-467.
FCG International Ltd, Helsinki, Finland was a contractor to the Banana Industry Trust, Castries, Saint Luciafor thei EU funded project.
Fox & Cullen 2014 Harvard Papers in Botany 19(1): 1-22. [30 June 2014]
Fox & Cullen 2014 Lichens of Saint Lucia – Herbarium Workbook. 158 pp. Privately published, Stamullen.
 Fox & Cullen Lichens of Saint Lucia, public lecture, Glasnevin 23 April 2014
Acharius 1798, 1803, 1810, 1814.
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.
Fox, personal observation, Platismatia glauca on Oak at Powerscourt Waterfall; Smith & Knowles 1926.
De Notarius 1843, Massalongo 1852.
Fee 1824-1837, Mitchell 2009.
Johnson et al. 2005 [see footnote 2], Fryday 2007 http://www.herbarium.msu.edu/CARIBBEAN/index.html Fox & Cullen 2008. http://www.biologie.uni-hamburg.de/checklists/lichens/middle-america/st-lucia_l.htm
Harris 1989, Lucking 2008, Lucking et al. 2011, Fox & Cullen 2014 Herbarium workbook.
Imshaug 1957: 3-9.
Browne 1756, James in Smith et al. 2009. Cladonia.
 Imshaug 1957. Catalogue of West Indian Lichens.
 Swartz 1788, 1791.
 Fee 1824, 1828, 1837.
 Vainio 1890.
 Vainio 1896. Journal of Botany
 Vainio 1915. Additamenta ad Lichenographiam Antillarum illustrandam. Helsingforsiae.
 Imshaug 1957. Catalogue of West Indian Lichens.
 Imshaug 1955, 1956, 1957.
 Zahlbruckner 1920-1950. Catalogus Lichenum Universalis. 10 voulmes.
 Imshaug 1955 Farlowia
 Lafcadio Hearn, 1890. Two years in Martinique.
 Imshaug 1957 Catalogue of West Indian Lichens
 Imshaug 1963 MSU herbarium
 Fryday & Prather 2001. Bryologist.
 Johnson, Fryday & Prather 2005. Michigan State University herbarium database
 Breuss 1999.
 Breuss 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006.
 Harris 1990 Some Florida Lichens.
 Harris 1990, Some Florida Lichens, 1995 More Florida Lichens, 1988, Puerto Rico Lichens.
 Lucking et al. 2011 Fakahatchee
 Seavey 2012 Florida
 Sipman 2007 Saba
 Aptroot 2008, 2012. Pyrenula
 Mercado-Díaz et al. 2009a, 2009b, 2010.
 Fox & Cullen 2014 Herbarium Workbook
 Imshaug 1963 Collection book in MSC, Michigan State University herbarium
 Fox & Cullen 2014 Harvard Papers in Botany
 Harris 1995 More Florida Lichens
 Øvstedal 2010 Lichen of Guadeloupe French Antilles
 Øvstedal, e-mail to HF
 Bricaud 2007, 2008, 2009. Lichen in Guadeloupe forest vegetation.
 Caribbean Literary Salon and Leaves of Life – Howard Fox
 Campbell 2013 Zing magazine.
 Caribbean Literary Salon and Leaves of Life – Montague Kobbe
 Campbell, 2013 Zing magazine.
 Schumm & Aptroot 2012. A microscopical Atlas of some tropical Lichens from SE Asia. 2 volumes.
 Johnson et al. 2005, Aptroot & Sparrius 2012.
 Goward 2014. The Ways of Enlichenment.
 Irish Society of Botanical Artists
 Forest Stewardship Council, Ireland.
 Lawrence & Hawthorne. 2006 Plant Identification. Creating user friendly field guides for biodiversity management.
 Fox, Cullen, Little, Cuiaruz, Doyle, Dwyer, 2001. Forest Ecosystem Research Report 31
 UVF is airport code for Hewanorra International Aiport in Vieux Fort, and an acronym for the Ulster Volunteer Force.
 Paddy Woodworth 2013. Our Once and Future Planet cites the Brackloon wood ATBI in his book.
 National Biodiversity Data Centre runs Bioblitz events for heritage sites such as National Parks.