Begin with one voucher packet
see what is within
this sample provokes a section
to test the monotypic genus proposed
Black fur perhaps Cystocoleus ebeneus.
Move to the stereoscope
fresh water for the droplet
a scalpel to extract tissue
for the glass slide, positioned
and ready to cover.

On to the microscope stage
with light, filters and condenser to set
to see the anticipated filament forms
with lenses x100, x400 and x600
to magnify the anatomy to verify
the characters we need to have to get to species.

Doubt at identity now assuaged
and voucher rationally boxed morphologically
the result is ready to add to the record
ready to move on to the next specimen.

Resolve happens sample by sample,
one every so often
a quarter of an hour or more
allowing you the time it takes
to validate, verify and test.

This black fur looks by eye no different
to the temperate species
that visual recognition provoked.
Our tropical montane saxicolous sample
with the evidence that we have
gets classified the same
a result that takes decision, resolve and passion
to create this identification,
a botanical mythology for an island.

A check on the literature shows that
it has been seen in the tropics before
by Thwaites probably in Ceylon
Back in the 1840s,
so while new in Saint Lucia,
it is not so unexpected.

This full time occupation of mind and eyes
walking a landscape screening for thalli to sample
of species that look the same,
close to the truth
kept for future science testing methods
so that novel differences, if any, may be discerned
with continuously advancing science,

This is our method to induce
a latent curiosity in the rock faces
and tree trunks and leaves around,
scholarship transferred,
one entity at a time,
to build botanical knowledge
for a developing society
combating colonial oppression,
to get to biodiversity conservation
by passing the utilitarian view of nature
that gets in our way of conserving life.

Howard Fox
6 June 2019


Ascospore life to live!

Ascospore life to live
On the tree surface
Living hyphae tend to a lenticel
Exploring corky bark stomata
Seeking nourishment
Of plant oil or sugar sap
Surface tensions in dew
Rain drip moved along
For an endophytic phase
To be phloem transported inside
Open plumbing to impede flow
Within a tree’s annual ring vasculature,
Making for a tree genus pandemic,
Mating type by hyphal mating type,
Continent by temperate zone continent,
Making a fruitbody to reproduce thee.
Ascospore to filamentous hyphae,
To colony, to mate, to fruitbody,
to the ascus and ascospore,
to move, to settle on tree bark:
Ascospore life to live!

Black clouds by moonlight

Black cloud lobe margins are a high silhouette
Orion’s starlight above, Indian ink blotted through
Moonlight stripes an onshore sea to an eastern horizon
Grey wisps billow around the moon above
Foreshore rocks rise like glistening black limestone sentinels
As rockpools mirror and kelp reflectors drape the shore.
Clouds half hide the constellation, after rain, tide out
tranquil boomers, long range waves sound from a bay far south.
Memory from a dog walk, nocturnal sky over outside Loughshinny pier.


Arms brown, tacky, glistening with evaporate
In this evening’s moonless darkness
A street light ellipsis punctuates my view
Restless, the fridge quietens down
Leaving just a laptop fan to hiss
Warmth this evening postpones sleep
Necessary to get back on track

Checking online, struggling to pick up
A neighbour’ generous connection to broadcast status
Waiting for the pleasure of feedback from another soul
A mark of emotional effect provoking keyboard strikes
from something of ours in mind, like calling hello
and getting an answer, brings me a smile.

Compassion essential a prelude to contentment
A guide to happiness set down in verse
While the warmth of the evening seers
pleasure into my bones, and hands arm rub
temperature evenly under a cotton tee shirt
contentment with a toss of long hair
ready for a neck masseuse backcombing my locks
and a return to bed to get the beauty sleep I need

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.

Amazing places to stop on the way from Dublin to Enniskillen – Bun Lough, Belturbet, Co. Cavan.

Heading North on the N3 past Navan, Kells, Virginia, the roundabout before Cavan, one can set off along the new road that bypasses Butler’s Bridge. After a few more miles the long stripe of good road runs out. One is faced with a windy stretch that brings you on into Belturbet. This next stripe of country has an amazing little swampy wood in it – on the left near a place called Bun Lough. If you are passing through, this swamp wood is a worthy destination for a few hours on the way back home to County Fermanagh. As the good road ends, the windy stretch tracks past the place that the people of Cavan learn to swim, and then goes on past a Church on the right. You cannot miss the Zetor tractor compound on the left at the corner of the road to the west for Milltown. Bun Lough is a bit further on, just where the road straightens up across a causeway through marshy ground to the east of Bun Lough. There is a tiny car park that services the fishing stands on the south side of Bun Lough. This is the place I think is amazing. After the vicious bends one left and then one right, one passes The Omega, a charmingly named nursing home on the left just before Belturbet. If you go past The Omega, you have gone too far.

By now a frequent visitor to Kilduff, one Saturday morning in March 2005, I had the misfortune of leaving my car lights on while reading a newspaper in the Bun Lough carpark, and the battery went flat. Nothing to be done, I continued my explorations of the Kilduff swamp, until it was time to get help. A very kind farmer willing to help was found in a jeep on the byroad from Milltown. The jump start did not work, and he gave me a tow to the garage across the bridge in Belturbet. When a mechanic was found, a blast on the battery charger and Margaret’s crew in the garage set me straight. Kilduff is the townland name on the map at the amazing patch of swamp wood just to the south east of Bun Lough. Kilduff or Coill Dubh can be translated as Black Wood. The tiny carpark at Bun Lough floods in the winter, so one can only stop there on the way past a bit later on in the year. The first patch of wood holds a wee bit of litter, not so bad considering Cavan County Council’s warning sign in the carpark.

Moving on into the first swamp wood, the ground underfoot is amazing – after the flood the leaves are left like dried out spent tea leaves, dark brown and crispy. Any shed sticks on the floor have lost the lichens due to immersion. In places where the leaves drift off in the floods, the ground is bare, and in the basins you get deposits of tea leaf swill building up. Over some barbed wire, the next field has a few birch trees at the southern edge, and crossing the drain here (only if you have wellingtons on) one can get an impression of what the heart of a real Cavan swamp wood is like. The trees here include willow, alder and ash with a bit of hawthorn. Every trunk has a grey swathe of leafy lichens. With lots of collapsed trees, getting through the thickets is a challenge. This is a fascinating area with a mixture of trees and disturbingly soft bottomed pools in which ones footing ought to be tested rather gingerly.

The special feature of Kilduff is that one can see a ‘lichen-line’ phenomenon, a level on the trees below which there are no leafy lichens alive. The ‘lichen-line’ is caused by flooding and prolonged immersion. After a few days underwater, lichens on the tree trunks and submerged boughs are killed. Once dead then start to rot, and in a few months after the floods one can see the ‘lichen-line’ in swamp woods clearly. Due to the buoyancy of spreading boughs in floods means that in dry condition the ‘lichen-line’ is just a wee bit lower on the branches at bush extremities. Every winter the ‘lichen-line’ forms at whatever level the floods reached for a few days. In the late summer, little small young lichens grow in the bare patch of tree trunk bark below last years ‘lichen-line’. A very high flood might only occur once in a decade, so such a flood would obliterate all the previous lichen lines. It can take a bit of time looking about at tree trunks and boughs in the swamp wood to work out the levels.

Looking at the lichens and fungi in Kilduff one can pick out the green cup fungus that stains dry rotted sticks Chlorosplenium aeruginasens. This is better known as Tunbridgeware of Oak, where the green stained wood is used for marketry inlay for ornamental jewelry boxes. One can also pick out the tiny one milimeter green grey ear like scales of the lichen Normandina pulchella on brown liverwort covered boughs of willow. There is a bracket fungus on decaying willow trunks known as Daedaleopsis confragosa, with a white or ruddy skin and a strange mazegill network of slots underneath. The swamp wood here though is really a place for the leafy lichens. There is a lot of Parmotrema reticulatum, a swamp specialist that has a reddish tinge to the crimped crispy lobe edges. Close up the upper surface has a reticulum of cracks, but this might vary according to the climate or time of year. This is something that we really do not know yet. Moving on through the swamp wood one can pick a way between the pools. Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria is beginning to pop up. There are a few reeds of reed canary grass in places. A collapsed birch tree was rotten with the birch polypore Piptoporus betulinus. If you want to follow that these plants look like, just type in the latin names on google images search on the web.

On progressing through I reached the central drain against the townland of Bun. A fallen willow straddles this broad tea water filled ditch. Stepping precariously along the trunk, not wishing to get wet, gripping some fine flexible sallies for stability, a final exhilarating leap, and I was in another townland. Swamp woods are special places that people in Cavan or Fermanagh, who care for clean clothes, forbid family members to go a walk. These swamps are rich in trees, perennial herbs, and the bushy and leafy growths of lichens, mosses and tree decay fungi, and a fine array of insects in the summer. As a part of the real Cavan out there, the uncertainty of orienteering through tangles of thickets; the unpredictable give of the mud and cracking of sticks underfoot, and the protracted risk of heart-quickening trips bringing one headlong closer towards a bath of mud – all make going for a walk in the swamp wood at Kilduff the perfect antidote for a day in, reading the Impartial Reporter.

Howard Fox

Preparing for the Enniscoe BioBlitz

Talk to me about the trees
What you have and for how long where
Decade bracket the human history
Plantings and fellings, of what tree from each Pairc,
And where you’d go to catch a cearc.

Parkland trees to native bushes
Wetland woods or drier sorts
Field hedges and river banks
Makes for a landscape of many ages
Wild corners from half a century ago
To a tree two centuries old.

Beech, Oak, Sycamore and Lime
Willow, Ash, Alder, Birch
Hawthorn, Cherry, Sloe and Apple
are the sort of trees we can expect
When we walk round Enniscoe

Take me to the woods,
And show me to the trees,
Let me look a while
‘til I’ve seen some life,
and into species so decide,
list their Latin names,
from a feature of this place.

Let that feature be some plot;
an area so clearly marked
that one cannot miss
its edges or its ground
when one next is passing round.

Footsteps botany, large or small,
Sonic memories from minds afar,
Linguistic sounds consistently uttered,
as species forms are acknowledged,
hypotheses of scientists’ from now right back to long ago.
Latin keywords that compassion allows.
Spread that tapestry of botanical micro-geography,
between each path and for each coup of wood.

Preparing for a BioBlitz
Lobarion, Parmelion, Graphidion
Lecanoretum and Pertusarietum in an arboretum
Where to look for all those sterile crusts!
Self-thinned dead branches low on trees
On the ground where the stem and cap mushrooms grow
All those mossy beds, with this and that.
Will the Ramalina & Usnea, so bushy be
in the apple orchard?
Where to look for all those sterile crusts!

Is this place geographically flat?
We will wonder if it is too even.
Was the landscape prison too wet
From trees to grass has it been
opened up and aired in a western wind
That it has dried out too much
Until there was nothing left, or did every stick
get collected in 1847.

A Temple House by the lake
A Sligo analogy for the place
A Brookeborough Demesne or a Doneraile Park
Flat limestone, lake wet,
with an equal isopleth

Morning sun into a western shore
An anti-flow that prevails
Tree wood water has to go
to make our liverworts and mosses
guide us, here, how wetness works.
For fungi and lichens too, water moves
between soil and ground or tree bark and air
with glades that bring lake dew back down to earth

Are there empty niches round the Estate?
Was canopy butchered to make end meet?
In that false economy, the cost of living,
And the price of burning nature’s furniture,
To keep us warm in our piles,
For want to keep a country seat,
And all inside in finery.

Wood from the trees costs lives
Of those who out here with spores survive
Trees for the wood, the planter’s struck
Assets for the future of all life.

Pope Francis on his Buddhist round
In Laudato Si calls for all Christians to care for all life
Make civil habitat for all life where you are
And then we can turn this extinction clock
to make the pairc and grove
Be home to Cearc and dove.

On land and lake, field and wood
when a species watches you,
and looks to be understood,
will you do the best for this,
outside the gates of Economy.

A mycological model of this place,
Pick some mushrooms, as you see ‘em
When you are walking, far away
Bring them back to the potting shed
To fill a nature table, which we will label
with some Latin names, if we know and if we are able
And with many eyes together see
we will make a better job of Bio Blitz
Than e’er we could do alone

So pick a punnet of mushrooms,
Fill a paper bag, not short with sticks
From on and under trees of every kind,
With your mysteries, share with us,
a way to help the botanical model emerge
so together go forth and let us make
A Bio Blitz for this place.

Howard FOX
25 September 2018