Glorious spring flora

7th March 2011

Following last Saturday’s high the week’s temperatures rapidly descended back to winter lows and we had rainy days, climaxing over the weekend with torrential downpours and thunderstorms. I have only ventured out for short walks during pleasanter parts of days, so for now I thought I’d do an update on some of the most commonly found plants that are presently flowering throughout the region.

Beautiful flowering shrubs and plants, many of which are widely cultivated and grown, or attempted to be grown in gardens throughout Europe, flourish here in some seemingly inhospitable places. Most thrive in a variety of different habitats, on dry sandy and often stony soils, in salty air by the sea and on rocky slopes. The plants compensate for the lack of available moisture with leaves that help to conserve it, these may be thick and felted, tough and leathery or needle-like. Many also protect themselves from being eaten by grazing animals with sharp spines or by producing chemicals that make them unpalatable. They flower early in the season to allow time to set seed before the summer drought begins.

Shrubs

SPINY BROOM – Calicotome villosa

An uplifting sight of bright yellow broom against a blue sky and sea

Shrubs are covered in a profusion of blossom

Flowering: February to April (May)

Habitat: Open spaces, especially dry hillsides with Genista and Gorse bushes and often in coastal places close to the sea.

A very spiny shrub that is often confused with gorse. The flowers are a rich yellow colour, very scented and are so profuse that when they are fully out they hide the leaves. The flowers almost always come out at the same time and a mass of the shrubs growing together is a spectacular sight. The formidable spines are 3-4cm long,  straight and tough, at the tips of the short leafy twigs and remain on dead wood.

*The spiny branches are so complexly interwoven that a stand of the shrubs is almost impenetrable and in the past, goatherds would cut bushes to use as fencing to corral their goats.

FRENCH LAVENDERLavandula stoechas

French Lavender – Lavandula stoechas

The colourful 'petals' at the top of each flower-head are actually bracts, the flowers are tiny and purple.

Flowering: Nearly all year round, but flowering is most profuse from late February to April/May.
Habitat: I used to struggle to grow this lovely plant in Wales, but here it grows in a wide variety of habitats. It is very common in sandy and acid soils; also in limestone areas, in light woods or in open places amongst open larger shrubs.
French Lavender is  a small woody perennial shrublet : all parts of the plant are slightly aromatic. The leaves are pale to mid grey-green, softly hairy and pointed. The flowers appear in elongated heads that are topped with purple to lilac or pink bracts varying in shape and length from about 1-2.5cm long. The flowers are tiny and usually purple in colour.
*During the intense heat of summer the normally pleasant scent of the plant tends to alter, taking on an almost ‘goaty’ scent. It is a very old medicinal plant and its essential oil was used here as an  antiseptic forwashing wounds.

A plant growing in light woodland amongst limestone rocks

TREE GERMANDER: Teucrium fruticans

TREE GERMANDER- Teucrium fruticans

Most common colour of this species are very plae lilac and almost white

Flowering: January to June

Habitat: A very common plant in a wide variety of habitats, woods, heaths, thickets, open spaces with other shrubs from the coast to mountains, on any soil type.
Tree Germander is a woody shrub that may reach a height of 2m, but usually much less. The leaves have  short stalks and are arranged in opposite pairs; the upper surfaces of fresher leaves is slightly downy, the undersides white felted.  The flowers are usually out two at a time on a twig end; colour is variable from pure white though pale lilac, pinkish or pale blue-lilac, very rarely dark blue. The plant is frequently cultivated, especially the deep sapphire-blue flowered form which originated in North Africa.
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Climbers

DUTCHMAN’S PIPEAristolochia baetica
 

DUTCHMAN'S PIPE -Aristolochia baetica

FLOWERING: Over a long period from autumn to early spring.

The plant takes its common name from the shape of its flowers

HABITAT: In almost any soil and a wide range of habitats, often in semi-shade on woodland edges, but also in more open places where it has support.

Dutchman’s Pipe is a robust, tall hairless creeping plant that will clamber high into trees, through shrubs or along the ground. The leaves are dull, blue-green and attractively heart-shaped.The flowers are about 7cm long, curved and a dull red-purple to brownish-red in colour: the plant takes its name from their  curious shape that are designed to entice in insects  to pollinate them, holding them captive until the job is done.

*The roots of the plant have been used in Spain since at least the 16th century for reducing fever.

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Bulbs & corms

STAR OF BETHLEHEMOrnithogalum orthophyllum (collinum)

STAR OF BETHLEHEM

FLOWERING: Feb/March to April/May

HABITAT: A variety of locations including light woodland, grassy roadsides, rocky ground and sandy coastal places.

A beautiful bulbous perennial with quite large star-shaped white flowers, 30-40mm across. Commonly cultivated.

ONE-LEAVED SQUILL, SCILLAScilla monophyllus

FLOWERING: Feb/March to April/ May

HABITAT: Light woodland, sandy and stony places.

A pretty, delicate-looking small bulbous perennial that produces a single long basal leaf that often bends over from the middle so the tip reaches the ground. The flowers are bright blue and star shaped, 7-9mm across and are held in compact spikes of 1-12 florets.

ROMULEA-Romulea bulbicodium

FLOWERING: January to March, April in the hills

HABITAT: Not fussy- sandy, stony or heavy rocky soils, open places or in light woods, coastal; very common.

Small, slender plants growing from corms, resembles a small crocus but does not have the deep green leaves with the central white line. Flowers open in the sun and range in colour from almost-white or pale lilac-pink to deep lilac.

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Pretty but pestilential

BERMUDA BUTTERCUPOxalis pes-caprae

Bermuda Buttercup - Pretty but highly invasive

FLOWERING: December to early May, later in hills.

HABITAT: Nearly everywhere, mainly open places, but can quickly become a pest in gardens too; covering fields and roadsides in vast patches and quick to take hold on disturbed ground. In our area it grows in any soil from the coast to limestone crevices at least to 500m.

This enormously successful plant, (not related to buttercups), is a native of South Africa that has naturalised in most Mediterranean countries, in Portugal, Florida & Bermuda and is ever-increasing its range. It does look pretty when it cloaks fields with its soft primrose-yellow coloured flowers, but it is a serious pest, covering many acres of agricultural land. The plants contain oxalic acid are not eaten by domestic animals. It is seriously difficult to eliminate as it has bulbs deeply buried in the ground, and new methods of controlling it are being sought.

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Herbaceous plants

COMMON ASPHODEL- Asphodelus aestivus

Common Asphodel against a background of Spiny Broom & the sea

Ashphodel with fruits & a visiting Violet Carpenter Bee

FLOWERING: January to March, April

HABITAT: Very common and widespread on rocky slopes, waste ground, woodland clearings, open coastal areas.

A tuberous perennial that often forms extensive colonies as it is unpalatable to grazing animals. (See post -GONHS  trip to La Janda) This is a very robust plant with tall stems that can attain 1.5m or more in height.  The flowers are white, 20-30mm across and the tepals have a pink-brown mid-vein. they are born in a much branched inflorescence that resembles a candelabra.

* The roots bear spindle-shaped tubers that are rich in starch, they are just edible and have been used as food in the past; they were also used to make glue.

ANDALUZ STORKSBILL – Erodium primulaceum

Andaluz Storksbill - one of the prettiest of the early flowers

FLOWERING: December to May

HABITAT: Sands, gravel and grassy fields; amongst scrub and in light woods; common across lowlands to hills.

A delightful, small annual plant that may grow to 30cm but is frequently smaller. The leaves are deeply cut and fern-like; the flowers are supported by long thin stalks with 2 to as many as 6 heads to each. Individual flowers are about  2-2.5cm across, with two petals larger than the other three, each having a dark pink mark near its base. The colour of the flowers ranges from pale to mid-pink, occasionally white. In early spring it can be more conspicuous when it forms large patches of pink in fields and on roadsides.

FIELD MARIGOLD – Calendula arvensis

FIELD MARIGOLD -flowers appear in a variety of sizes depending on location

FLOWERING: Almost all year round, but mainlyJanuary to May/June

HABITAT: Sandy, stony soils, often favouring disturbed and cultivated ground. Widespread across the region.

An annual plant with tiny flowers, 1-2cm across that range in colour from bright yellow to orange.

FEDIA – Fedia cornucopiae

Fedia is very attractive to butterflies and bees

FLOWERING: December right through to April/May

HABITAT: Grassy roadsides, damp pastures and disturbed ground.

A small, low-growing and spreading annual, very common and widespread plant and having a very long flowering period. The leaves are oval, quite a dark green and hairless. Flowers are borne on  stems that branch into two at their end, with two leaf-like bracts at the joint; each stem then bears a densely clustered flower-head. Flowers are about 1.5cm long pink to dark red in colour.

BORAGE-Borago officianalis

Borage is a good honey plant and is grown as a culinary herb in gardens

The flowers are gentian blue

FLOWERING: February to May.

HABITAT: Country roadsides, seasonally damp fields in sandy or rubbly soil; often cultivated; mainly located in lowlands.

An annual plant that grows to about 70cm tall, it is much-branched with hollow stems. All parts of the part except the petals are covered with short, sharp and pale-coloured hairs. The leaves have a puckered surface and are variable in size. The deep blue flowers  are held face-down on short bent stalks and are almost scentless, which is a pity as they are quite beautiful.

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