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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

"Live Oak, with Bromeliads" by Eric Ormsby

The second in a new series of posts of poems featuring oaks. Eric Ormsby's poem focuses on Quercus virginiana (southern live oak) and its relationship with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)—not a moss but a bromeliad. Most bromeliads, including Spanish moss, are epiphytes. Epiphytes grow on other plants, but do not rely on them for nutrients. They take nutrients from the air and debris that collects on the plant. But at first glance, it appears that Spanish moss is living off the oak and perhaps damaging it.

If you would like to propose a poem for inclusion in this series, please click here.


Live Oak, with Bromeliads

The live oak tufted with bromeliads
By the salt lagoon looks almost scarred.
Airplants bristle on its grey
Limbs like knotted sprigs of surgeon's thread.
In sprawling notches of the canopy
Spanish moss dangles in snarled clusters
While the long sunshine of Miami's winter
Lends it a gloss of fractured malachite.
But nothing could be less wounded than this oak.
Its knuckled roots infiltrate the dank
Marsh of the hammock, they drink the sand
Riddled by land-crabs to a moon-pocked surface.
And look:
                like praying candles in a smoky shrine
Set up to honour the salt god of the marsh
The ranked branches embrace their parasites.


From Coastlines, Eric Ormsby, published by ECW Press Ltd., 1992, 9781550221763.

Evergreen old alley panorama
Quercus virginiana with Tillandsia usneoides in William Guion's photograph: Quarters Oak Alley, Evergreen Plantation, Edgard, Louisiana



Eric Ormsby was born in Atlanta, Georgia. A distinguished scholar in the field of Islamic thought, he received a doctorate in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and taught at McGill University, Montreal for twenty years, where from 1996 he was Professor and Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies. In 2005 he moved to London where he took up a post as Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies. In addition to his extensive writing on Classical Arabic literature and Islamic thought, and his translations from Arabic and Persian, he has published six poetry collections and is an essayist and reviewer and the author of two critical works on poetry and translation. His poems have appeared in such magazines as The New YorkerThe Paris Review, and PN Review and are included in The Norton Anthology of Poetry.