Letters (on fungi) from small islands – comparisons from around the world.

Howard F. FOX, National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, D09 VY63, Dublin, Ireland.
Maria L. CULLEN, Barrow Herbarium, Ballyanne, New Ross, County Wexford

BIODIVERSITY INVENTORY
Inventorying the botany of small islands is a satisfying objective of field studies in nature.
In addition to the need for the botanical synopsis of an island to be visually tractable, all the major habitat types, that walking can determine are present on a small island, need to be screened for component species. Voucher specimens preserved in herbaria provide the basis for the scientific decision making of identification of species.
Since HF and MC began our lifelong botanical quests in 1987 and 1995 respectively, we have endeavoured to incorporate our scientific observations in their appropriate botanical context. Identification is time consuming work from first principles of consulting type specimens in herbaria, but is more rapid in taxonomically well documented biomes, where original acts of scholarship are documented and copied from book to book.

IRELAND AND HER OFFSHORE ISLANDS
We began this quest in Ireland, focussing on offshore islands (Lambay, Clare Island, Inishbofin, Inishturk, Foynes Island, Tory Island, Bere Island, Cape Clear Island, Inishtrahull, Sherkin Island, Great Saltee, Achill Beg, Skellig Michael) accessible by boat and by ferry. Kayakers have landed on many more smaller offshore islands, and in some places, botanical exploration on some Irish offshore islands is still scant.

SAINT LUCIA & JAMAICA
In our experience, the mycology of Saint Lucia and Jamaica will require several more rounds of revision, prior to satisfactory knowledge is assembled. There is potential for species new to science to be found here, as well as many species already described with a wider that hitherto known distributional range. We are building on the science of the late Edward Vainio, the late Henry Imshaug, Harrie Sipman, Andre Aptroot, Marcela Cacares and other taxonomists what have collected and considered botanical specimens from Saint Lucia, Jamaica, and similar iso-climatic habitats in sub-tropical and tropical zones of the Caribbean and Central American neotropics, as well as all around the world.

NEW CALEDONIA, TAHITI, MOOREA AND NIUE ISLAND
The mycology of Nouvelle Caledonie is at a relatively advanced stage. Numerous taxa are understood from voucher specimens preserved in PC in the metropole and NOU locally. Jean Mouchacca, John Elix, Patrick McCarthy, Robert Lucking and others have built upon the scientific infrastructure of William Nylander, various French 19th century mycologists and the late Rolf Santesson. The exploration of French Polynesia is uneven, and while Tahiti has a long list, information from Moorea is modest. An overview by John Elix and Patrick McCarthy shows a wide tropical diversity in the central Pacific. Niue Island has been explored mycologically in our studies of voucher materials kept in Ireland.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITIES
The festival for the Transit of Venus at Pointe Venus in Tahiti in June 2012 demonstrated the lack of scientific instruments in daily use by natives of the Pacific Islands. Most optical instruments and telescopes were operated by native French scientists. Such can be said for the Atlantic Ocean and the offshore islands of Ireland and in the Eastern and central Caribbean. A botanical herbarium is kept in Saint Lucia by the Forestry Department in Union, south of Castries. A website for plant species identification by Roger Graveson is instrumental in promoting Saint Lucian botany. Similar resources are not obvious in Jamaica. In Ireland, since 2000 there has been a renaissance in taxonomic resources online, starting with Stuart Dunlop’s 2003 to 2007 Donegal Hedgerow. Many other sites have grown up alongside the NBDC at Carriganure, Waterford and the GBIF mined resources that computerised Ireland’s biodiversity information. The development of third level colleges and universities in Noumea, Alofi, Papete, Suva, Morne Fortune, Mona, and so on, provide the potential for botanical research on fungi to grow, and the virtual herbarionauts of Paris will help accelerate this aspect of mycology.

THE LAUDATO SI OF POPE FRANCIS AND CONSERVATION
We are still left with the primacy of nature as a creator of species of interest to the scientific enlightenment, the need for conservation of nature first, and the availability of specimens in the museum and private sector for study, to enable all this scientific infrastructure to be generated. In addition to google, we still need the minds of people, who express the wit and the curiosity and willingness to curate knowledge as an altruistic act for society. The burning of the Amazon, with fires set on 10th August 2019, show the resistance to the wise use of forest resources. This is an example from in the Lusophone tropics, primary forest burning and ancient forest clearance is something that occurs in every townland, even in 2019 as close to home as in Corracloona, in County Leitrim in Ireland, an ethic which needs to be challenged effectively by all humanity.

Republished by lichenfoxie. Text for a poster at the European Mycological Congress, Warsawa, Poland, September 2019.

The Poetry Salon in Old San Juan

Having arrived, grocery shopped,
I sit on couch with an open mic,
nibble and slug provisions
in Poet’s Passage, a sit down
A stroll from a cruise-ship line,
The air fan buffets the hairs on my bare legs,
Music on the sound system is in Spanish creole.
Wicker chairs for an audience of a Tuesday.
Found this place yesterday Wednesday.
Checked it out online,
a struggle after Hurricane Maria, she wrote.

I am here for a chat with the owner
Running this art shop cum poet’s space for a decade
A living embodiment for me of a place only imagined
Spanish not English the language of choice here
Not far from Marshall’s, in the centre of town.

The Caribbean Literary Salon
A moderated space for Caribbean writers
Posting content on the internet
Joanne Hillhouse of Antigua
Kris Rampersad of Trinidad
Robert McDonald Dixon of Saint Lucia
A place on-line where I started my career in writing
Thinking of getting an article into literary magazines
Like the ‘Caribbean Writer’ or ‘Small Islands’
to address the issues of promoting my line.

Caribbean botany as a cultural creation
and a full engaging mental activity
of exploration of the landscape here,
each mushroom with its latin name
a scientific geography of the Caribbean
with a microscope and a graticule
to measure the spore dimensions,
to bring them a tangible reality.

The geography of site place names
to allow the mushroom species
to be followed in the future
ephemeral transient beings
living in the one place, year on year
after Hurricane Maria, and many storms
from when the botany begins
before the Great Hurricane of 1780.

Nine Worlds

Our very own Yggdrasil fell the other day,
An Ash tree,
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots.
Bourne from the Well of Urd, right here by the Tolka,
snowbound and closed, storm Emma blew
from the East-North-East for three days:
Wednesday ‘til Saturday.

Glasnevin watched over this ‘Waterer’s Variety’ Ash
in the far grounds, number 1888.011023.
This 30 metre tree – some 120 years old, graceful,
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots.

A yellow flame of Chrysothrix candelaris
on its latticed trunk, made it visible from afar.
Honey fungus, at a root buttress,
was noted, 14 September, five years ago,
warning that its time was near.
Armillaria gallica, a honey fungus variety
has rotted out its fifth of the root plate.

Nine Worlds of our very own Yggdrasil were alive here, last week.
Leafy lichens of 20 kinds,
crusty ones and fungi of another 20 sorts.
Nine fungal infections of lichens,
five mat-forming mosses, three cushioned ones,
two liverworts and a 16-spot ladybird, in an Ash tree.

Sixty species crowned this Glasnevin village Ash:
all grown from wild gardener’s spores,
30 years afresh in Mary Harney’s clean air.
Our very own Yggdrasil
holding Nine Worlds in its branches and roots,
full of cryptogamic spore bark life,
a centre of spiritual cosmos,
right here by the Tolka, the Ash that fell the other day.

Howard FOX, Botanist, 7-8 iii 2018

Kildare Snowdrops

The tall tree casts its long shadow at dawn in a weak sun; winter is beginning to ease. Snowdrops catch little of the hint of warmth in still air. Cool but not cold. These Galanthus nivalis could be from the mountains in Turkey, from a valley far above the Black Sea, where I have never been.

Our snowdrops in the garden at home were planted by a previous owner, a different family and a different generation. Snowdrops from Crimea, snowdrops from the Balkans, snowdrops from the First World War. Ottoman trophies – a few bulbs brought home in soldier’s luggage – memories of friends lost in the chaos and misadventure of war.

The snowdrop varieties here in our garden are the same as the ones of the big houses of North Kildare: Castletown and Carton. Snowdrops as a signature of social cohesion, a society within a society, traded as presents between the tenant farmer’s wife and the big house. The snowdrops in Hosie’s garden were in a white sward, right across from the 33 milestone on the old coach road from Dublin. That is 33 Irish miles, marked on Taylor’s Map of Kildare of the 1770s.

Writing for pleasure itself is alive here on a Saturday morning in the halls of Ardgillan, the home of the road improver Taylor of Taylor’s Map at his country seat. And there are snowdrop varieties to see here in Ardgillan gardens too, in the shade of the tall trees.

This short piece developed from an exercise of 15 minutes composition, from the prompt word -Tree, freshly written at this morning’s meeting of the Ardgillan Writers Group and read a few times by a our readers, for sentences that did not work, transcribed this afternoon from the pencil manuscript typed up, edited and elaborated this evening and made ready for this internet blog.

I do not like squared paper – towards a solution to a science dilemma

Laboratory Books I need to love
on every page have squared paper –
a push away from science.
Title, abstract, introduction,
materials, methods, results,
discussion, conclusions, references
is our way.

Squares for every single letter.
Squares for every single digit.
Obsessively square control
for everything written every time,
every day in a square,
day by day, in laboratory books.

My love of digits in squares faded
with childhood mathematical prowess.
Now I could not do a budget
to save a single round cent,
yet I need to love squares again
to get some science done.

I think I am finding a way.
1000 questions in long hand
writing across square boundaries
as if they do not box me in.
Angle the page so as my hand
follows a horizontal sometime.
Write on every second line
for a page at least.

Are the problems real? The trauma is.

An unethical pharmacology demonstration
in a graph on squared paper
displaying after injection the last of a life.
Traumatic physics assignments,
of metallic springs stretched
beyond their design load.
Laboratory Book marking
turned me to botany,
and on to vegetation quadrats
standing in squares recording plants.
Geographic co-ordinates are
squares set on arcs on the celestial round,
squares undermined by cadastral appeal.

The scientific solution is to add
a compass with pencil arcs
to turn squared paper on the lathe to beauty.
Arcs and curves, sine waves and parabolas –
squares inhibit, if you do not love them.
Rekindle that spirit of botanical inquisition
to understand, model and represent.

Build that scientific model
from the materials to hand
of some phenomenon in the world.
Back of an envelope, they say,
Why not the herbarium folded packet
Latin name, plant geography, date, collector.

Find your voice, find your style,
let your laboratory book be
your window on to that inquisitive life.
For the love of squares, with a compass then,
create arcs of roundness,
and a few tweaks here and now,
terms of reference, ethical concerns,
why this science is good for society,
and why it is right for us to do.
Masking tape to add notes culled from
notes written in undisciplined places,
until I like squared paper in the
Laboratory Books I need to love.

Botanical species: dispensed scripts for posterity.

Quiver of pencils, in a breast pocket, equally sharpened,
with a topper, just in case,
in a pocket with herbarium cards.
Blank white labels to be scribed on
with a front and a back,
designed by Maura – 25,000 printed, in 1978 …

Handwritten or typed words to set questions
in front, answered in bespoken lines,
the back for line drawings
indexed by the
botanical species:
dispensed scripts for posterity.

Ready for readers of a future time, in 2017 …
to be read out loud, or in the mind.
Composed of details direct from a specimen seen,
concepts and ideas with an essence of home truth
that can soothe your decisions, if read in time,
advice from experience of comparative botany
notes from prior identifications,
your own observations and their conjunctions with ours.

Identification efforts made, references checked,
work done, content with the result,
now for a nod or a smile in the end,
that brings you to computerize the
botanical species:
dispensed scripts for posterity.

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