An Ode To The Evergreen Magnolia

I discovered a fragrantly flowering Great Laurel Magnolia on my walk today. This plant blooms from late spring to early summer and can be found in the southeastern United States, from southeast Virginia to central Florida and then across to East Texas and Oklahoma and even as far North as Maine. Often growing on the edges of swamps or large bodies of water, this tree prefers moist soil but cannot tolerate inundation [1] Also known as Southern Magnolia, it has one of the most strongly scented flowers in the world [2] so I hovered a bit longer like a hummingbird.

Magnolia grandiflora as it is scientifically named, is the official state tree of Mississippi and its flowers are the official state flower of Louisiana. The generic name of Magnolia was in honour of the French botanist, Pierre Magnol, a professor of botany and medicine at Montpelier, who died in 1715. It is also called the Evergreen magnolia for it does not shed its leaves in the temperate climes.

Now imagine this genus Magnolia, the majority of which species occur in East and South East Asia, where a little over only one-quarter of the species are natives of the New World, from the North East United States (one species just extending into Canada) to northern parts of South America. More than half of the entire species are tropical, thus it should come as no surprise that the Flora of China published in 2008 (Xia et al. 2008) consists of a separate taxonomy for the genus Magnolia that the Chinese botanists adhere to [3]. Botanical nomenclature under the current International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) is quite an effective way of establishing plant identity and there’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into identifying and naming plants, but classifying them taxonomically requires scientific consensus as the agreement on circumscriptions (or the content of a taxon) is not governed by the Codes of Botanical Nomenclature. The delimitations therefore or circumscriptions of many taxa that had been regarded as stable for decades, like in Magnolia for instance, are in a state of flux, given the rapid developments in molecular phylogenetics [4] This may be of interest to a plant enthusiast.

The use of Latin, for plant binomial nomenclature does well for academics, horticulturists and enthusiasts, but it is actually the vernacular names (which have no code of governing bodies to subscribe and adhere to) that add layers of charm to a plant. Now, Magnolia grandiflora is also called Bull bay because many broad-leaved evergreen trees are known as bays (many Magnolias for example), with this species thus named for its huge size of leaf and because cattle have been reported eating these. I couldn’t find any other literature than this reference in support for this reasoning. [5]

A paper I read, that makes the case for recording, preserving and documenting local names of plants says “local names play a very important role in the ethnobotanical study of a specific tribe or region. Local names given to plants by indigenous people in their local dialects often reflect a broad spectrum of information on their understanding of plants. Most often, the local names are given based on some salient features, e.g. appearance, shape, size, habit, habitat, smell, taste, colour, utility, and other peculiar characteristics of the plants.” [6] Common names help situate a plant in our immediate context and environment by adding layers of meaning to their existence and ours. It enables us to take ownership of the surrounds and become aware and protective towards plant habitats. Many Magnolias are threatened by deforestation and habitat degradation, that has been highlighted in ‘The Red List of Magnoliaceae’ (Cicuzza et al. 2007) in which it has been observed that 131 of the 245 members of Magnoliaceae – over half – are facing extinction in the wild.

This beautiful dense tree is not only a chaos of disconnected names but can also be a great understorey selection for a garden as I have already had the pleasure of seeing this year. The tree has stout twigs and branches which have a fuzz, known as tomentum, which can be a white to rusty red color and like in most species of Magnolia, the bark emits a pleasant aromatic odour when crushed. The lovely canopy forms a dome shape with dark green glossy leaves and brown velvety undersides. It is also an economically useful timber tree, not simply a dainty ornamental, in that the wood can actually be used to craft furniture and veneers. The plant even contains phenolic constituents shown to possess significant antimicrobial activity, against Gram-positive bacteria and Fungi.

I was very thrilled to discover this Southern beauty on my walk and here is an earlier post and poem about the Bigleaf Magnolia I encountered on a walk along the Highline in NYC. They say that “no group of exotic trees gives more distinction to a garden than a comprehensive collection of magnolias. There is not one that is not worthy of cultivation.” [3] I am therefore privileged to have seen two species in bloom this year, which I have now come to admire for their hardiness, dignified that they are with the largest leaves of all evergreens and a spectacular size of individual flowers. Magnolia they say, symbolise magnificence, dignity and perseverance and I should think hardiness and resilience too.

Process: I wrote the poem as a tribute to this garden divinity. I learned a lot about the Great Laurel Magnolia this evening so this will be a long poem, a botanical one that has each stanza initiated by a vowel. I also used the concept of a gonadal intersex in it since it would be incorrect to allude to the Magnolia grandiflora as feminine, considering the flowers are perfect and hermaphrodite with both reproductive structures creating a bulbous torus.

An Ode To The Evergreen Magnolia

A timber tree, dignified and espaliered to the light,
dispels any dark sentiment in fragrant blooms, amidst
a leafy dome in the glossy emerald sheen of soft resilience.

Early summer and it's warm, sometimes cold, but never old,
for time runs on evergreen and brown velvety undersides,
unravelling on fuzzy twigs; merely trestles for mammoth blossoms

Intending to sparkle in Eden of thick leafy grandeur.
What pantheon hosts this delightful Dionysus, tepals
around a torus, swathed in stamens and pistils*.

Orange arils** are pendulous drops of blood, revealing
blessed heart of a grand flower, fruiting compassion
in stigmata, in fluid meanings to florid fruit.

Understorey dapples countenance of noble beauty,
so shy under canopies of towering trees,
finally emerging transcendent towards sky.

And if any flagrant wind swaddles in dry demeanour
this acid hardy being that's loathe to argue with
the heated weather, it petulantly wears the loss of vigour.

Exemplary great laurel of life, wandering tomes in taxa,
stringing appellations in a shivaree, for while Systems Men
conjure and constellate, Bull Bay simply trek across the land.

Inciting wonder at their reluctance to seed the loam,
for when science speaks of bio-rhythms, sweet magnolia
wax dormant to the sound of a different drum.

Outstanding garden divinity, created when God planned
His own demise in this beautiful balance of soul
perfection sired by Hermes and Aphrodite.

Underscored by the need to umbellate the landscape,
this southern perennial spread to a whole New World
in diverse avatars of a strange hybrid philosophy.

Notes on the Magnolia grandiflora that may be of interest from a botanical perspective and have aspects featured in the poem:

Picture Credit: Catesby’s Laurel tree of Carolina by G.D. Ehret from Wikipedia

Magnolias are evergreen or deciduous trees or shrubs with alternate, entire, pinninerved leaves. Stipules are present and initially enclose the terminal bud, later falling leaving a scar; they are often called ‘perules’ when covering an overwintering flower bud, and are often attractively hairy. Magnolia flowers are solitary, hermaphrodite or rarely unisexual; they are terminal on long shoots or on short axillary shoots (brachy-blasts). The floral parts are arranged in turn along an elongated receptacle; the perianth is composed of six or more distinct petal-like tepals, and occasionally the outer three tepals may differ from the inner ones; stamens are numerous, spirally arranged and flattened and the anther is poorly differentiated from the filament. The pistillate part of the flower (gynoecium) may be sessile or stipitate (with a stalk). Carpels are numerous (rarely solitary) and spirally arranged; they may be free (apocarpous) or fused (syncarpous). Fruiting carpels (follicles) are usually dehiscent, and each produces one or more large seeds. The carpels may be fleshy, and can fuse together to form a berry-like fruit (the term ‘fruit’ will be used here to refer to the aggregate of follicles, whether fused together or not). After dehiscence, the follicles often become woody and persist on the tree. The seeds each have a red or orange fleshy aril and are often pendulous, hanging out from the carpel on a slender thread (Chen & Nooteboom 1993). (

Picture Credit: Yale Nature Walk [1] The seeds each have a red or orange fleshy aril and are often pendulous, hanging out from the carpel on a slender thread. An aril, also called an arillus, is a specialized outgrowth from a seed that partly or completely covers the seed.

The leaves are alternate, simple and entire, with stipules that are free from the petiole in some species, in other adnate to it. Flowers bisexual, produced singly at the end of a shoot; peduncles with one or more spathe-like bracts. Perianth of six or nine (occasionally more) segments known as ‘tepals’, arranged in whorls. In some species the tepals of the outer whorl are small and sepal-like; in describing these species it is usual to term the outer whorl a calyx and the inner segments petals, but in no species of magnolia is there a complete differentiation of the perianth into calyx and corolla. The stamens are numerous, spirally arranged to the lower part of structure (the torus), the upper part of which bears numerous free carpels, also spirally arranged. In the fruiting stage the torus is much enlarged and the carpels split on their outer side to release one or two red, scarlet, or orange seeds, each of which is attached to the carpel by a silk-like thread. Seeds of magnolias are sometimes very long in germinating. It is interesting that a batch of about two hundred seeds of Magnolia wilsonii, ripened at Kew once, remained dormant after sowing for over two years, then germinated simultaneously with scarcely a failure. (

In Greek mythology, Dionysus is best known as the god of wine, Dionysus was also the god of intersex and transgender people. But it is actually Hermaphroditos, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, the gods of male and female sexuality, who is the god of hermaphrodites [6] In humans, conditions that involve discrepancies between external genitalia and internal reproductive organs are described by the term intersex and such conditions are extremely rare in humans but in true gonadal intersex (or true hermaphroditism), an individual has both ovarian and testicular tissue [8] I used the gonadal intersex concept in the poem since it would be incorrect to allude to the Magnolia grandiflora as feminine, considering the flowers are perfect and hermaphrodite with both reproductive structures creating a bulbous torus.










*The stamens are numerous, spirally arranged to the lower part of structure (the torus), the upper part of which bears numerous free carpels, also spirally arranged.

**The seeds each have a red or orange fleshy aril and are often pendulous, hanging out from the carpel on a slender thread. An aril, also called an arillus, is a specialized outgrowth from a seed that partly or completely covers the seed.

The Mystique Of Mushrooms

Yesterday was pelted in thunderstorms and drenched in flash floods but we braved the lightening, the evening rush and hauled in a variety of mushrooms from an East Asian Market a long distance away. Supper therefore, was a bit exotic, saucy, even green, all quite literally so. Mushrooms deserve a special place in poetry so I wrote a poem for them. They were all chopped before it occurred to me to take a photo of each individual species, so I borrowed some from Wikipedia instead.

Happy Meal

The king oyster mushrooms turned meaty in the cooking; they were also meant to develop an umami flavour but the soy sauce beat them to it. Pleurotus eryngii is the largest species of oyster mushroom and the specific name is simply because it grows in association with the roots of Eryngium campestre or the Watling Street thistle which feels like the oddest association of organisms; the thistle being a thorny and spiny plant as opposed to this soft, smooth sponginess [1].

King Oyster mushrooms from Wikipedia
Watling Street Thistle from Wikipedia

The delicate Enoki or Flammulina velutipes, grows on the stumps of the Chinese hackberry tree (Celtis sinensis) which is a species of flowering plant in the hemp family, Cannabaceae. A most unique aspect of the cultivated enoki are the long thin stems that arise because of the carbon dioxide rich environment they are cultivated in and the lack of exposure to light which produces their distinctive white colour. Wild mushrooms apparently display a dark brown colour and have short thick stems [2].

Wild Enoki from Wikipedia
Cultivated Enoki from Wikipedia
Chinese Hackberry tree from Wikipedia

The shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is an edible mushroom and its Japanese name shiitake is composed of ‘shii’ (Castanopsis), for it is the tree Castanopsis cuspidata, that provides the dead logs on which it is typically cultivated, and ‘take’ (mushroom). The specific epithet edodes is the Latin word for ‘edible’. The Castanopis cuspidata is an evergreen, that is related to the Beech and the Oak and the dead logs are a great substrate for shiitake [3].

Shiitake from Wikipedia

I have a background in Mycology hence the sweet overwhelm of scientific names, but the emphasis on fungal nomenclature is more to showcase the association of the three types of  mushrooms with varied species of plants.
It’s a privilege to know where food comes from and why it is, the way it is. Supper was a delicious team effort.

We glazed it further with an infusion of sesame oil, ginger – garlic – serrano pepper slivers in half a cup of water and corn flour, oyster sauce, soy sauce, some sugar to taste; it was then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The spices added towards the end heighten the flavour.
The Mystique of Mushrooms in a Stir Fry

There's no wild to picking mushrooms anymore. It's quite safe to troop them off the shelves, along a sedate aisle.

Those days of dead logs, spiny leaves and fissured bark seem like from a Grimms' Fairy Tale, where arose fairy rings, in grey grim woods alongside the thistle.

When the Enoki were sliced to slumber on a bed of green, it struck me as ironic, that they were deathly pale since breathing in what I breathed out. I asked myself, has this mushroom suffered to grow so in darkness?

The Shiitake, we wiped with a kitchen towel, not that they were weeping, but wallowing in tears would have weighted them like a wet sponge of sorrow.

Shii is simply the Castanopis tree in Japanese and they are called other things umami and we like the flavour of sultry summer supper. And so do they, as they spirit out the decay of woody crust in a fungal exorcism where life eats death; where the faded memories of gnarled bark are spent like currency in circular thought.

The king oyster 'shrooms seek thistle companions in a morbid coevolution. They are the most mushroom of them all; thin stipe and large cap, a perfect parasol for a sorceress who believes little in mirrors.

But their sunshades have gills, now stressed for low light and barely breathing*, white as a sheet on meaty stipes, making way to a seasoned wok. The human palate is rarely aware that it finds edible the grotesquely transmogrified.

I set out to write a tribute and ended up with an elegy instead. This one felt more like an autopsy. It’s simply how the words flow and I have attempted another one that is palate worthy, I think. I have added notes below about the saprotrophic nutrition of Shiitake and Enoki mushrooms, both are wood decay saprotrophs. The king oyster mushrooms on the other hand establish a mycorrhizal connection with the Thistle. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies of the fungal mycelium that runs through the substrate.

The Mystique of Mushrooms

Dainty parasols peeped through
the undergrowth, like fairies
preparing for summer rain.

Hands reached forth
to sever stipe from
subterranean soul
for death begets life
in a world like ours.

And those fissures in bark -
a desultory carapace,
for sturdy trunks,
are rife with
fertile imaginings
that will seed
sustenance in a broth
meant for supper.

Spongy sunshades, outpost
the underground meanderings
of mycelial whispers
anchoring forests,
to a filigree of life.

Bounty of soft pickings,
unfurl in awareness
of what lies beneath,
in an undercurrent
of tenderness.

Philosophy lurks
in leafy detritus,
tangled roots,
but meaning emerges
in spongy clusters
that rise
from death**

Notes: ** Shiitake and King Oyster mushrooms are Saprotrophic. Saprotrophs are decomposers that live off decomposing dead organisms. Saprotrophic mushrooms grow on dead and decaying wood. They are able to break down plant matter and convert it into nutrients, and they accelerate the decomposition of their host in doing so. These fungi have a key role in breaking down plant matter, where most of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is to be found. The action of the fungi helps return much of this carbon to the atmosphere as CO2. There are two sub-categories of saprotrophic mushrooms: litter decomposers, and wood decay fungi. Litter decomposers break down plant matter and are often found scattered across the ground in the woods. White button mushrooms are an example of the several saprotrophic species which are litter decomposers. As their name implies, wood decay fungi break down the wood on trees. Shiitake mushrooms are an example of wood decay fungi. There are other types of mushrooms that are mycorrhizal, parasitic and endophytic [5]







It was on a walk along the Lenape trail earlier today, through Mills Reservation in Essex County, that we spotted this mushroom.

As most of us know, a mushroom is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelium that runs subterranean. And here in this forest were a variety of trees with roots that branched beneath the surface. As Robert Kourik in his work ‘Roots Demystified’ mentions [1] “While one rule of limb has been that a tree’s roots are one and one-half to three times wider than the foliage, other investigators estimate an irregular root pattern four to seven times the crown area; and, still other researchers maintain that the root extension can be four to eight times wider than the dripline of the tree, but only under certain conditions.” 

Leafy excess

This evening, something triggered me to compare the subterranean systems to John Gray’s idea of atheists as inverted believers. It may have simply been the word ‘inverted’ or the pessimistic philosopher himself that struck me, whose work I read with keen interest a few years ago. Terry Eagleton wrote of Gray’s book ‘Seven Types of Atheism’ in 2018 [2], that according to Gray, most humanists are atheists and have substituted humanity for God and that the  popular belief of atheism and religion as opposites, is a mistake. Religions are not theories of the world but forms of life and are less systems of belief than acts of faith and therefore he considered many fanatical atheists as no more than inverted believers. I am curious about this idea just as I am about a tree or a mushroom. I find a tree to be that sort of organism that has its lungs on the outside while the being itself remains embedded in the Earth, just like the mushroom emerges from its subterranean mycelium.


Well, my poem is not about John Gray or mushrooms or the Lenape or atheists, it is actually on the concept of inversion in trees. I must thank John Gray for inspiring this thought, though.

A seed lay buried to fate in a copse of stately Oak / Leafy susurrations in the crown above, seem to ruffle a verdant cloak / like wind subdued grasses in a glade //

Germination is but an adventitious murmur / seeking the depth of a dark silence / in roots swaddling the Earth like it would have simply crumbled otherwise //

The tree of life is scattershot / hidden from the eye of the Sun / It bends whichever way in seeking baptismal waters / sunk in the innards of the Globe //

There then, where roots are girdled / they chase around themselves in sacred enclosures until / they have choked the trunk to their aerial lung // 

In such viridescence resides poetry / a glint and shimmer until the flicker of Fall / but the trees themselves remain embedded in the mythology of loam //
Speckled in light, unfortunately


[1]Roots Demystified, Chapter 9,  Robert Kourik, 2008. (He did his research for this chapter at the UC Agricultural Libraries at Berkeley and Davis in the late 1980s)~



We spent part of the fourth of July in Chinatown and it was delightful. My ‘sometimes’ hairdresser worked her magic as always, the Shzechuan food was cloyingly sweet, everything looked festive and people were back on the streets that were quite literally awash in colour.

That’s because we walked along Doyers Street, which is between Pell Street and Bowery, where lay painted  ‘Rice Terraces,’ a 4,800 square foot asphalt art mural,  created by artist Dasic Fernandez. ‘Rice Terraces’ features 44 vibrant colors along the snaking roadway that runs through this old Chinatown neighbourhood, which is home to many long time restaurants and other businesses. The Mural was inspired by  rice cultivation terraces commonly found in China and is meant to serve as an attraction for visitors returning to Chinatown, as NYC continues to reopen. The neighbourhood was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as reports of the virus’ origin in Wuhan, China, sparked fear, misinformation and discrimination that kept visitors away. [1] I didn’t get a photo unfortunately as there were many people standing on the mural, so here’s one I took from the web.

Rice Terraces Mural on Doyers Street Photo-credit:

The post though, is not about Chinatown as much as it about the theme of Liberty and Freedom. As the United States celebrates  Independence Day today, we were pleasantly surprised when Clara Ysé’s soulful ‘Libertad’ began to play while on our drive to downtown Manhattan. It felt like the Universe conspired just then to play a song on liberty; simply a conceit that the world revolves around us but makes a great story nevertheless 🙂 Yet, there was something about the song that made me look up the lyrics. I have since discovered that this is from Clara Ysé’s eponymous first short album with songs in French, Spanish and English. ‘Libertad’ is in Spanish, co-written and composed with Yulian Malaj. As I have expressed many times before, the depth of what people feel appears to touch us across borders, boundaries and bodies in what may be a blissful or a wounding coincidence. Clara Dufourmantelle, the name she was born with, lost her mother in 2017 to drowning, as she tried to rescue two teenagers during a severe storm. Perhaps, this is why her album is, as one website noted, [2] a work of life, of rebirth, with a voice that comes from the guts and lifts up to the soul, in a music as mixed as its origins.

In the song, Fées magnétiques, she sings: “I will tell you my angels that without you these days / I would have joined my mother in paradise / Thanks to you my dear friends I learned / To cherish the savagery of our bodies ”.

The song Libertad is of a rich poignancy, it rushes feelings through the tributaries of sound even as a young woman sings that she isn’t afraid of the blackest nights, and of the colourless sea even if they stay or does she will them to stay? She is aware of the illusion and this awareness is liberty for her perhaps. A river that roots the moon, clouds that gallop in the old lagoon, like the wind between her hands … liberty manifests in many ways for different people; as a lack of restrictions within society, the power to act as one pleases, an independence of thought, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear …

This song touched me; the words are soulful poetry, beautifully composed and I wished very much to write a poem on the same theme although with a flavour of my day. I also managed to translate Clara Ysé’s song from the original that was in Spanish [3] with the App and it seems to stay true to that version. I have included it below.

listen to Libertad here:

The fireworks from the Empire State Building this evening
On Liberty by Davina E. Solomon

Maneki-neko beckons Luck,
like the lady were walking
down Doyers street,
handing fortune cookies.

And this golden cat,
waves a paw at the window,
smiling for success ...
It is simply a conceit

that the universe writes us
poems in love songs on the radio,
or signals contempt like in the accent
of a cold caller or hate perhaps,

as mistrust drips from
collective eyes to paint patriotic hues
in our faces that don't exist.
The streets, terraced in rainbows,

peddled every shade in fruity
confections, so we thought,
but they only stroked metaphors
in the interplay of light.

Until memories fray yesterday,
Today will keep time locked in a mural
Or some creative artifice,
thinking we be liberated from their devise.

The conceit of attentions, theirs,
ours, feeling fears, exultations,
in the imaginings of beliefs,
simply beliefs that imagine Fogbows

And as the cloak of night descends
on the Empire State or a singular
conceit, there are sparkling Moonbows,
on the forever crinkled waters of the Hudson.




[3]~Spanish lyrics

Libertad by Clara Ysé

I don't want to sing about love anymore
I don't want to talk about hugs anymore
I'm not afraid of the desert, of the distant lights
Of the blackest nights, and of the colorless sea

In the Silence the Sun is born
And from the Silence the Cry is born
Miracle of the dawn, of your silent body
Ships and snow come out, whole worlds come out

Liberty.  Liberty.  Liberty.  Liberty

Stay, like the wind between my hands
Stay, like the dance of the gypsy witches

Stay, like the river that roots the moon
Like the clouds that gallop in the old lagoon


Liberty.  Liberty.  Liberty.  Liberty
Liberty.  Liberty.  Liberty.  Liberty

Translated through GoogleTranslate; I hope it does justice to the song. The original Spanish Lyrics are below.

Simply Saturday !

A simple poem today about simple things, I couldn’t think of much to write, except brunch and dinner. Aren’t Saturdays meant to be a balance of slow and beautiful … like a diamondback Terrapin ? We had an amazing day but it was the food that punctuated it, in the deliciousness of happy exclamations. There was boiled corn in the salad and that, my friend, can be the sweetest addition to anything that is glazed in a honey, mustard, apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil dressing.

Mango and avocado happily lettuce eat corn cumcumbered in chicken and some flashy tomatoes. Handful nuts, a great salad topping make !
The morning floated by on rain 
that rose in mist from warm earth;
the tea wafted from cups like it was
looking for metaphors above the brew.

Shakshouka graced our breakfast table
in the spirit of the Maghreb
and the little red dish was simply
the pillow talk of eggs wondering at
the pointillism of yellow and green peppers.

Then time flew by in conversations,
that conjured blithely from seasoned laughter
until someone called, asking for Jason,
but none of us knew anyone called Jason,
so we all got serious about planning supper.

Saturday is lazy and daft,
but a splendid chef!
Salad graced our dinner table
in the spirit of gratitude for sharing
a meal in the sweetness of mangoes.

Cornucopia poured generously
onto that platter, awarding us
a rainbow in July ! Colour ...
is what it must feel to be alive
Before Shakshouka
And Shakshouka, After.

I am grateful for all the people that make my life beautiful and make me smile. I hope the weekend brings happiness to everyone !


I tried to be inspired 🙂

To my muse, the green green grass of home!My sentiment exactly 😅 Sometimes, as the writers of grain, even the Gramineae need a creative lift …

For Poaceae: It's when your green grass bears the Midas touch and all is gold, those words ... golden harvest ... aglitter in senescence, simply kindling for a flame. It's raining today, grey skies metamorphose to green grass, colour to colour. When a countenance is coloured in a smile, life will mist a rainbow, as it glitters emerald and sparkles peridot 🙂 

Edit: Poaceae or Gramineae is a large family of monocotyledonous flowering plants known as grasses.