[Herbarium] record descriptor labels and make-your-own creativity

It’s terribly dark in Oslo right now, mid-December of 2018. The sun is seasonally depressed, I can tell: it rises almost a quarter past nine, and barely acknowledges us most days. Consistently thick clouds are overbearingly pessimistic loud-mouths who rarely let the sun get a word in. It just quietly slips away less than six hours later, at about three in the afternoon when the Norwegians collect their kids from school and go revel in candlelight and Nordic-design lifestyle clichés. Actually, with family and friends, it can be quite a cozy time of year.

So, let’s have some fun today and try to get that lethargic, cloudy brain moving.

In a follow-up here to the previous post, where I explained how I survived extremely data-specific computer work, there were more poems that I created, but to this point have not shared. In fact, I even had a mind to come back and write more poems, and maybe I still will. Back in early spring of 2015, I took notes on a few more descriptions that just “screamed” for a poem to be written from them.

Shall we, perhaps, try some poetry “together”?

For example, take this description:


“Casual on road verge,” isn’t that amusing? Like the Blumeria graminis was just hanging out with Triticum aestivum (that’s wheat), casually at the roadside verge.

“Oh, hey, what’s up?”
‘Meh, I can’t complain so much, I suppose.’
“Yeah, at least we’ve got each other, am I right?”
“….I said, am I right?”

It’s precisely 300 meters south of Monachty, in Wales, which could be at the Nant Erthig river, just past the Monachty Mansion, though I think one should follow the road further to the first intersection if we are to find a “verge”. These are all good bits of information to form a tale from, though, aren’t they?

However, we’ll need some more ecological info to make the story credible. Monachty might be in Wales, and there may even be a bed and breakfast there, but what has this to do with the casual encounter between Blumeria graminis and Triticum aestivum at a roadside verge south of said town? Well, the fungus is a powdery mildew specializing on grasses. Wheat has a long history related to humans and pathogens, and at this point I suggest you read up, let your scientific imagination take the best of you, and write a poem. Send it over, I would love to read it. Keep it clean, all right?

There were, however, more records descriptions that equally caught my eye to save for later. Here is a real gem of inspiration:


In a whisky cellar?! Well, that’s an easy sell. And up in beautiful Scotland, at that. On a wall-path, no not a war-path, except if it was fuming-mad… I see potential, related to “fumes,” how this fungus actually lives, and some nerdy puns….

The fifth of September in 1997, who’s taking notice of Zasmidium cellare at the Edradour Distillery? It all reminds me of a Canadian “mystery” I used to share with my mycology students. Certainly, it is worthy of creative inspiration. Again, be clever and create some amusement!

Next, let’s shift focus and consider millipede droppings. I must be honest here: while I do, actually, understand what prairie plant-specialist moth “droppings” (<frass> in technical terms) look like, the fact that millipedes defecate in high enough amount to identify as being such, has been, to this point, completely unthought of by me. And what about you?


Actually, there is something specific to mention about this one: while Piptocephalis pseudocephala is not super popular in terms of internet searches, the genus is. It’s a microscopic Zygomycete fungus.

Links over to the digitized efforts of Mycoportal in the States demonstrate other records descriptions, with just as much potential for both interesting, actual science [not what I am writing today about] – through data mining – and also as sources for creative inspiration and ecological education. Take it away, and please send along the crafted results!

Specimens are often recorded and collected with associated notes, important for ecology but also sources of inspiration, for example in my case, for bored postdoctoral researchers formatting data. Mycoportal in the US is one example of a digitization project allowing us to view these records as images of the actual packet labels. Shown here: “Piptocephalis FLAS-F-57372

Finally, I share two last records notes that I had, along with the above, saved for later poetry efforts:

Peziza_hortensis  1992-05-16
Ascobolus_viridis  1992-05-07

Two Ascomycete species (with great stories I would love to share some other time), in the same place and on the substrate, just days apart in recording.

What caught my eye, however, was that they were fruiting on mole hills. An ecological strategy for fruiting by ruderal species, they take advantage of newly exposed soil as a “cheap” substrate to fruit upon, and the environmental cues of digging up the dirt are probably the way in which the fungi “know” to fruit there. Or perhaps they soar in as spores to recently exposed soil, germinate and fruit. I will look up and further discuss, perhaps, with time. I do know that taking soil cores can mimic this small-scale disturbance, which I learned during my PhD research. That makes me suspect less the just-arrived-colonization-strategy and more the, former, now-is-the-time strategy.

I was thinking at the time, because I noted it, about the idiom of “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” I wrote, “…scientists and ideas and grants…”

Do we make too much out of too little? And in what way? Or, was I not thinking about my own research, but our way, as a whole, of creating future scientists and furthering careers?

I do recollect that my thoughts were more the latter, for example how ideas can be “stolen,” manuscript authorships “poached,” and grants competitively, unequally distributed.

Competition is not always bad, but when morality is lacking, at least I can get upset…

…and think to write on it later…

… as poetry…

…but perhaps you could try, too?