Franciscan farming – some options to explore

Dear Reader,

The website <lichenfoxie> has been quiet in recent months. The authors and writer are gradually getting extraordinarily enthusiastic about local biodiversity documentation. The concept known as a sessile plant florula is in essence of what is being made – This is a kind of local flora, that Declan Doogue, who is struggling for decades with a ‘Kildare Flora’ and John Feehan, Wild Flowers of Offaly would be proud of, that incorporates multiple taxonomic insights derived from the species present. Also <lichenfoxie> has become very enthused about sharing our passion for what I call ‘moth-farming in North Leitrim’ or ‘Sorting Sphagnum …’  developing in the evening, some of the scented paths with Rosa agrestris to and from New Ross, necessary for the urgent transition from Benedictine agriculture to Franciscan farming.

A start at Franciscan farming has been made: in South Kerry, in fields that never heard a Hymac’s engine running in it, forever, or a bill-hook or slaine in the pairc, since 2000; in North Leitrim; at Rossinver in Straid (Connolly); and Kiltyclogher in Corracloona; in West Cork, Bantry at Ardnagashel; in Wexford near New Ross, at Ballyanne; in Carlow, on the hill slopes with a reddish Scapania cf. irrigua, near Ballymurphy and the tree trail of Myshall with an amazing Bay tree in the Adelaide Church grounds. In Wicklow, we have recently been looking at a mine adit at Glendalough; a boulder in the block scree near the Miner’s Village in Wicklow. Florulas of these places are in gestation.  

The production of a short concise local florula that documents sessile biodiversity by <lichenfoxie> continues apace – a florula as we mention above is a booklet about the biodiversity of a particular place and the assemblages of plants, ferns, mosses, liverworts, fungi and lichens, algae, and any other groups of wildlife that there is evidence for, observed directly in a day or twos observation at a place in a townland in some county in Ireland, in Soufriere in Saint Lucia or on a French Polynesian island in the South Pacific ocean like Moorea.   

The South part of County of Kerry, between Kenmare and Sneem, is in the heart of Thomas Taylor (1785-1848) country. As I write on, we draw attention to the ground work on Thomas Taylor scholarship has been set by the late Geneva Sayre late of the Farlow Herbarium, Harvard University Herbaria. This material has the potential for making of an historical florula in the landscape of South Kerry between 1800 and 1850.

On pesticides, there is a school project from 1983, researched in the Oakpark Library, which I can go back to, which was supervised by Dr. Andre Fro:lich. The impact of agriculture from the mid-1980s to the 2020s on the Irish landscape and its florulas has been profound. The changes in the weeds of tillage crops from the 1970s, on, have been extraordinary. We can see this by looking closely at the Flora of Carlow, by Evelyn Booth, and the bryophytes of Arable Fields in Kildare.  

In the mid-2010s, in what is now DCU Alpha, we with Sean O’Donovan studied the botany of twigs from Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth as well as the botany of Saint Lucia in 2014, and we would like to draw stands of our writings for local botany together. This approach to documenting nature, focused on making a florula of sessile plants, and the biodiversity side of nature, was crystallised in teaching, that Maria Cullen and I gave on Culture Night at the convent at Glasnevin. We are now feeling centred on a path to the future realism of Franciscan ‘moth’ farming, versus the Benedictine dairying of today.

A few weeks of new writing in Summer and Autumn 2022 with attention to responding to the contents of the 100 display books and conferring with earlier writings on <>; much of which you our dear readers have read; has left us with an interesting raft of ideas to put into second gear. Second gear is a Finnish Ascomycete Systematics scientist’s analogy, Seppo Huhtinen, we are doing an #agriculture by applying ourselves to themes in a Venn diagram somewhere between ethical agronomy and wise mushroom carpophore utility for the #future.

We had a great session at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, County Leitrim on Saturday 11th June 2022, performing at Foley Falls, and again over three days at our Irish Geological Association granite geobiology workshop with Maria Cullen in Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains National Park, 17th to 19th June 2022. Go, #gratitude. Many thanks to Mary & Johnnie Cullen of Ballyanne, Nick and Sophia Hilliard of Corracloona, and Christy & Johnny Fanning of Loughshinny, the Andrews of Fournoughts; and Sr. Vivienne Keely, Margaret Aylward Centre Faith Dialogue, and Heinrich & Greta Pertl, Glasnevin, and other good people who have provided the benevolent community spaces for us into which such notions of sessile Franciscan ‘moth’ farming has developed, during the life of Oberon (gebornen: xii 2011) and Bran.

This contribution to organisation of our few decades of floristic botany and field geology in Ireland, and in a few choice places around the world, into a series of locally relevant floristic outputs will be a benefit to anyone considering Franciscan ‘moth’ farming and native ‘sessile’ gardening on their patches, to help readers understand what different kinds of plants are present, and how the biodiversity that you have on site provides a framework for the resident entomology, as our resource for providing options to farmers interested in this style of ‘moth’ farming.

Should you be a landowner with a budget to spend, do feel free to enquire, and commission us to do our magic, and document your site. We are just an e-mail away. For all our FB friends, this is the essential service, of sessile plant florula making, that we are endeavouring to provide from our office with a Rising Tide in New Ross.

With kind regards

Howard Fox

Botanist & Writer, a.k.a. <lichenfoxie>

Maria Cullen

C.E.O., Planet Life Research

Rising Tide

36 South Street

New Ross

County Wexford

1010 words

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. .

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 …

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 …
in a society that destroys beauty.

Howard FOX

Before reacting to europanto

Parataxonomy and Optical ambition

Microscopy of mountain land
ascospore 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.


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

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
mattress 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 caribbean-ness, composed for a salon of salubriousness
where comment is stiffled by literary politeness
while a few rauckous members scribble 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]

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.


Caribbean Literary Salon Blog I

The ways are clear for us to walk

up the vales of L’Ivrogne

to tarry by a fencepost

while tethered cattle look on

the heat, the flies, the brilliance

of the white Ochrolechia thallus

sorediate in places, something quite routine

a form from the Caribik, is what we have seen

Carefully collected, numbered 29185

preserved in East Lansing for everyone

A particular piece of Soufriere that catches the noonday sun

the fencepost crumbled fifty years along

by the Cacao orchard on the way to Fond Doux.

The forms that surround us, we do really see,

we have to set a syllabus to educate us in them

the form is just once off, not another thallus within arms reach

a white mysterious crustose Ochrolechia of the Caribik

for our curiosity. The concept is mid century and was Lecanora before.

Context is supplied in Cuba by Wright or Guadeloupe by Duss

that is what Vainio wrote in 1915 I hope, but this hypothesis

must be read again, revise up on the history his worry said

Looking back, maybe someone in future will see how to group this,

another, maybe three, in a logic framework that we can all use

if we can perceive the soufrieriness of thee

For hail Brodo, it is a white sorediate crust, only one can you be

that a whiff of creativity is appropriate to solve the mystery.

Comment by Althea Romeo-Mark on March 25, 2013 at 6:35am

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Interesting poem. I do feel like I am on a journey with you, a little exploration of the natural environment to see what it has to offer us and tell us.  It takes us on a botanical and historical journey, and yet manages to have some rhythm and rhyme. I think it could be edited to give it more shape and form.  Break some of the longer lines, but do not break the rhythm.

Comment by Anthony RICHARDS on December 28, 2012 at 7:35pm
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Ok. I admit that you made me look!

I “googled” Okrolechia.

Regards, and thanks for all the assistance, this year.

Have a great New Year