Mushroom botany … for the sake of beauty

This poem was composed after a concise explanation of mushroom taxonomy focused on the specimen, the species, the genus and the family, was set out in conversation in the evening after a mushroom foray, at Longueville House, Mallow, County Cork. I dedicate this poem to Jim Fraser. Another title that works for this piece is – Mushroom Taxonomy. .

I.
The carpophore is true.
This stalked fruit body is true.
A specimen is real to me,
And, is real to you.
A stem, with cap, and gills,
you have…
A specimen is one true,
one true, taken from nature,
one true, made from this.

Fruit bodies of one species…
ought to have properties in common.
Features of cap,
features of stem,
and features of gills,
all that are true,
by God, by colour, by form,
by growth, by life, by all.

Congruence in morph,
equal in tone,
over the cap,
equal in zones,
neat radial gills,
attached equal in some way,
with stem surface parts …
equally rolled,
over the round.

Species is the ultimate unit
science creates to cope with this –
variation on the round, of
features of cap, gill and stem.
A name to go with it…
The species epithet…
we have to use it, now and then,
when we, who know and see it,
when we, see it again,
the name of the species …
is the epithet, we know it by.
And this will be the name we call it,
when nothing has escaped our eye.

A genus is a way of grouping,
A way of grouping species …
By pairs of species that share some features,
Whether we have the words or not
Things that are made of the same sort,
Things that are made of the same kind,
Things that form in the same kind of way,
Congeners share …
Congeners are our decision
on the closely knitted group.

Families, then, are more abstract, with a few, or more, principles in common …
Spore print colour …
White, cream, pink, cinnamon or dark purplish black …
Stem cap and gills for an agaric,
Stem cap and pores for a bolete,
Stem cap and folds for a girolle,
Gills break easy or milk when reflexed in Russulaceae
Families, then, are more abstract, with a few, or more, principles in common …

II.
The name we use botanically is a binomial of genus and species –
The genus: a predictor of form,
and the species: the one of that kind.
The family placement: an overview that we summarize.

Bizarre that taxonomy is so predictable,
the same result each time.
Constructed on logical argument,
and close observation of …
mycological colour, morphology and anatomy, studied optically.
Taxonomy is the consensus about the same kind.

Imagine the groups,
imagine genera,
something that comes with experience,
comes with a synopsis of one’s specimen examinations…
Drawing together forms in common,
that look the same,
that dissect the same,
that live in the same worlds …
of lacustrine moss …
but have different words – Massalongia carnosa fertile, foliose, Polychidium muscicola fertile, fruticose,
Imagine creating a family: Massalongiaceae
Logically needed for this congruence…

Put together a taxonomic system,
the goal of systematic botany,
A system to cope with all species,
is a sort of a yoke …
A yoke that makes sense of
All what we have seen …
living and growing in nature,
with logical keys to separate out
this from that,
that we can cope with,
a yoke to make nature comprehensible,
to those folk
with the insatiable curiosity
to look, and provoke.

Collect, observe, magnify,
draw, colour and illustrate.
Name and label the parts,
and distill into science,
a taxonomic method,
for enlightenment …

Writing up species for human utility is no way…
Use taxonomic honesty, systematic creativity, and floristic reality …
to describe our lands’ vegetation geography, for conservation, in a prescribed legal way,
to make destruction of each life, a species taboo, with which we inhibit
the banker’s and their chainsaw’s …
greed
in a society that destroys beauty.

Howard FOX

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