Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Iberia IV

A thistle and fennel, a view or two, and the Pinsapo revisited! From Ronda to Granada: more blogging-lite from the Iberian Peninsula. 

Ronda, a town with a view


And in that view, the big blobs of yellow are the Giant Fennel (Ferula communis)


Plus, identified with the (recommended) app Plant@Net, the Blessed Milkthistle, otherwise known by the snickering botanical name of Silybum marianum. I also checked it in the new Wild Plants of Southern Spain by Tony Hall (of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew). I had the book delivered to my hotel in Seville and I can highly recommend it - for a tour of Andalusia...


Nearby to all this magnificent scenery and charming weeks, is the home of the Marques de Salvatierra. A sixteenth century home with eighteenth century (1778) extension, and a lovely small garden 'out the back'.


In that garden I expected to find one of these, a Spanish Fir or Pinsapo (Abies pinsapo). This is a rare tree, the regional tree of Andalusia, and one I've blogged about before. This is what it looks like, in the streets of Ronda (and near to where it grows naturally).


But in the garden of the Palace of the Marquis, I'm afraid the 200 year-old Pinsapo looks like this... ūüėĘ


But of course the good thing about gardens, and plants, is that you can plant anther one. Close by is a seedling, which I think will be transplanted when the stump of its parent has been removed.


After Ronda we headed to Maliga where we visited a private home called Finca Carambuco (the latter word a common name for Vachellia (Acacia) farnesiana, a South African wattle growing in the garden). In there garden we saw what is reputedly the largest Ombu (Phytolacca dioica) in Spain, after only 50 years of growth.



And then in Malaga's La Concepcion botanic garden you can enjoy the offspring of the fruits of the Spanish voyages to South America, with plants like Monstera deliciosa. And why and how does it have those holes? Well, I'll post about that when I return to Australia...

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Iberia III

From loquats and bitter oranges in Seville to the Patio Festival in Cordoba, via a French-English-Spanish garden at Moratalla. More blogging-lite from the Iberian Peninsula. 



The bitter orange in situ in Seville, with the cathedral in the background


Ceder of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) patterns in the Seville Alcazar. Note that this species is now endangered in its native habitat in eastern Mediterranean, partly due to exploitation for building cathedrals and other such buildings.


Grotesque, outside the rooms with the emblematic tiles.


And to continue with my pomegranate fetish, here is one skewered by a spear as part of the support system for Christopher Columbus' coffin, in the Seville cathedral. The symbolism is again around Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinando, and their desire to rid Spain of the moors.


This is the garden at Moratella, owned by the the Duke of Segorbe and designed in part by French garden designer Jean-Claude Forestier. It's a mix of French, neo-Arab and Spanish influences. I also noticed a little English in their.


Finally, the patio festival in Cordoba was a hit. Plenty of Pelagonium mascarading as geranium, and the second picture is how some of the courtyard keepers water their pots (it can take 2-3 hours).




Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Iberia II

From the streets and breakfast table of Seville, Spain, it's more blogging-lite from the Iberian Peninsula. 

This time it's 2017 (7 May), loquat (but sadly not naranja) season.


Somethings remain the same (see last week): a bit of South America (jacaranda) in Seville. This time, though, I can put the new Sevilla Tower (near Triana) in the background.


A bit of Australia in Seville - gum and grevillea.


A few plants in a Royal coat of arms, including a pomegranate at the base of the top oval, an olive branch perhaps in the bottom left oval and a laurel of laurel weaving through anchors in the middle.


And above it, some more plant material, perhaps a laurel of a laurel again?


And this Albizia, I think, in the street near the Triana Bridge. Or is it an acacia. Perhaps I should just call it 'mimosa'.


This is a picture of a palm, with the Catedral y Giralda as a backdrop.


And, of course, potted plant...



Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Iberia I

As I travel through the Iberian Peninsula over the next few weeks, it's blogging-lite: a few images and captions only. For the first few weeks I'm leading a tour (Gardens in Spanish Culture) in southern and middle Spain, then holidaying through Portugal and north-western Spain. 

Today, a few pictures from the region I'm in now, Andalusia, in the south of Spain. I'm just settling in so these are from my last visit, in May 2008.

The South American jacaranda in Seville:


Roadsides in Adalusia (sunflowers, wheat, olives, cork oaks, native pins):


 Geraniums (Pelargonium) in Cordoba:


Alhambra, Granada


Finally, cypress in the city of Granada:

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Del nuevo mundo


The New World! A romantic and thoroughly Europe-centric term for the Americas, coined in the sixteenth century, when up to that time the known world (to the Europeans) was Europe, Africa and Asia. Australia of course was well known to the people living there at the time but not to the Europeans.

This is my final post before I drop into travelling mode, posting a few images and captions as I travel through the Iberian Peninsula... 

Spain and Portugal led the European exploration of the Americas, although of course it was an Italian, Christopher Columbus, who found the Bahamas and hence the edge of the 'new world'.  His trip, though, was funded by the Spanish monarchy.

This is not the place to document the dramatic impact of the Spanish on the people and environment of the New World, so I'll stick with the relatively safe world of plants. The botanical discoveries (from a European perspective) began in 1570, when Philip II (a keen gardener and plant enthusiast himself) sent Francisco Hern√°ndez to America as a 'medical examiner'. After seven years Hern√°ndez returned with botanical 'samples' and wrote up his discoveries about Mexican medicine and botany in a 16-volume treatise which remained in manuscript until parts of it were published in 1784 and 1790, and other bits in 1959 and 1960. Sadly, in the seventeenth century and start of the eighteenth, interest in botany and botanic gardens faded.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Spanish monarchy sponsored three botanical expeditions to the Latin American part of the New World. The first, in 1777, was to Peru and Chile, served by botanists Hip√≥lito Ruiz, Jos√© Pav√≥n and Juan Tafalla. The second, in 1787, took the botanists Mart√≠n Sess√©, Jos√© Mariano Moci√Īo, Juan Castillo and Jaime Senseve further north, from Cuba to California. The big one, though, was the Malaspina expedition in 1789.


This five-year journey led by Alessandro Malaspino and José de Bustamante y Guerra, was devoted, at least initially, to science. It ended a unhappily for its primary leader Alessandro Malaspina, who was jailed on return for conspiring to overthrow the government but the botanical discoveries were substantial, if in some cases delayed. Botanists came and went on the expedition, including the Czech Thaddäus Haenke, the 'Franco-Spanish' Luis Neé and the Guatemalan Antonio Pineda.

All of them, and others, collected a vast array of plant material for herbarium (preserved) collections and for the gardens of Spain. As you see from their route, above, they also dropped in at Port Jackson (by then a land somewhere between the Old and New Worlds), in 1793.

Ne√© named and described a dozen or so oaks, including Quercus agrifolia, the California (or Coastal) Live Oak. He also championed plants already known but soon to become very popular. The massive Maguey or Century Plant (Agave americana), described by the father of plant naming, Carl Linnaeus, in 1753, was a favourite. Ne√© said he would 'make it so well known that Spain would not long be without it'. My picture at the top of the blog is Agave americana growing wild now in Gran Canaria, part of the island territories of Spain. You can find plenty of references to agaves in my previous posts, including Agave americana

Malaspino and his crew reported not only what the plants were but also what they were used for. Agua miel (honey water) was extracted from some agaves, and fermented to make pulque (a fairly basic kind of alcoholic drink). In the 1780s about 16.5 million gallons of pulque were produced each year in Mexico.

There were variations to the brew, including some made with palm leaves, peaches, eggs, pineapple and worms. The latter are presumably taking us into the territory of mezcal, which I've also covered before in this blog. And of course these days we also consume the sugar without all the fancy fermenting.


Succulents seemed to be popular, presumably due to their striking form and potential as a garden plants in those parts of Spain with hot, dry summers. (Some plants weren't suitable outside the tropics and 400,000 cinnamon trees transplanted by the Spanish within Central America to establish plantations for supply of this popular spice.)

Pineda said that 'when all the newly discovered plants had been presented, they would augment the inventory of the vegetable kingdom by at least one-third …' He estimated at the time that 7,000 distinct plants (species) had been collected.

Neé's final tally was 10,600 flowering plants, plus mosses, algae and fungi making a total of 15,990 dried specimens for the herbarium back in Madrid. Today (or at least in 2011) in Madrid's botanic garden (Real Jardín Botánico) you can now see the fruits (so to speak) of their labours, in collections such as this of American succulents.


Further south, in Malaga, another of the cities I'll be visiting shortly, the local botanic garden (Jardín Botánico-Histórico La Concepción) is proud of its collections from the rainforests of Central America. Of course we in Australia also grow Monstera deliciosa, via Europe, via their expeditions to the New World.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The city of pomegranates


Pomegranate, Punica granatum, is thought to have been native to Iran through to the Himalaya in northern India, but was widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region during Ancient Greek and Roman times. It has a particular connection to the Andulacian region of Spain that I'm visiting in coming weeks.

The city of Granada, home to the hauntingly beautiful Alhambra, is said to have been named after the pomegranate, which in Spanish is called granada (from the Latin word for seed, granta). Alternatively the name of the city is a corruption of its Moorish name Karnattah, or Gharnatah, meaning something like 'hill of strangers'. We'll assume the former for the purposes of this post but the Moors had a special connection to this place, holding until 1492 and after the rest of Spain had fallen to the Christian invaders.

The common name, pomegranate, is a century or two older than the fall of Granada. As you might have guessed, the pome refers to an apple and its origin is Old French, from around the the start of the fourteenth century it seems. As I've mentioned, granata (grenate in Old French, grenade in modern French) means seed, so it was quite reasonably termed the 'apple with lots of seeds'.


According to a decidedly pro-pomegranite site, POMWonderful, Queen Isabella I (who with Ferdinand II reclaimed the city) is said to have 'stood with a pomegranate in her hand and declared, "Just like the pomegranate, I will take Andalusia seed by seed". It turns out Andalusia was easier to conquer than it is to seed a pomegranate (although I've found that squishing sides together a few times then tapping on the back with a wooden spoon works pretty well).

The plant, or at least its fruit, is clearly evocative when it comes to place naming. The north African city of Carthage was originally called Punica by the Romans: it was said to be the source of the best pomegranates at the time.

With its woody outer layer, the fruit travels well, and was carried through the deserts of this region as source of refreshment. It is of course added to various parts of a meal to add colour and bling.


The plant itself is tough and long-lived. Specimens at Versailles are thought to be 200 or so years old and you see the scrubby remains of bushes around old homes in Australia that are presumably a century or so in age.

Various parts of the plant are used to treat diarrhea and stomach problems, and tannins have been extracted from bark, leaves and fruit. Not surprisingly, the fruits and flowers are a source of red dye. 


It's an odd plant botanically, classified in its own family, the Punicaceae. Other than Punica granatum, there is only one other species, Punica protopunica from the island of Socotra (home to lots of other weird and wonderful plants such as the Dragon Tree, the giant succulent tree Dorstenia gigas and Frankinsense). 

I've always found the fresh green colour of the leaves and the bright red flowers attractive, even though the form of the plant is often a little untidy. The flowers also remind me a little of the underground orchid-like flower, Thismia. I'm not sure anyone else makes this association but it adds to the encounter. As will visiting Granada once again, discovering the image of the pomegranate fruit on flags and 'manhole' covers throughout the city.



Images: the fruit is from a local supermarket, and the flowers, cultivated plant and view of Alhambra are from Granada in 2008. The Coats of Arms are repeated repeatedly on the web.