Wild Winter Flowers of Puglia

Olive trees and bright yellow flowers
Olive trees and bright yellow flowers. Image by Valerie Rice

Scattered throughout the Puglian countryside, you can see dashes of colour, as wild winter flowers blossom. Now, I’m no expert in this field but a good friend of mine, Maria Demkowicz, is a ‘flower and fauna’ enthusiast, and she has kindly offered to put this blog together, so a big thanks goes out to Maria!


Bermuda Buttercup
Bermuda Buttercup. Image courtesy of http://www.pointlobos.org/

With clover-like leaves and a 5-pettalled soft- yellow flower, the Bermuda Buttercup, (Oxalis pes-caprae), makes a sunny carpet in the olive groves and coastal areas of Puglia at this time of the year. Neither a Buttercup nor from Bermuda it belongs to the wood sorrel family and is now naturalised in Southern Europe but imported from Tropical and South America and originally from South Africa. Although pretty and cheerful, it can be invasive in cultivated grounds and once established it is almost impossible to eradicate. Not one to dig up and plant in your garden, enjoy it in the wild or in a vase but not in your flower-beds!


Winter Crocuses Puglia
White Winter Crocuses. Image by Valerie Rise

There are several species of crocuses in Puglia, this one flowers throughout the winter, and can be found scattered amongst the olive grooves. Crocuses are perennial plants, native to Europe, North Africa and all the way eastwards to China. The plant grows from corm and their leaves are lineal. The flowers are cup-shaped and are usually white, they have six petals and the flowers remain closed if there is no sun.


White Toadflax
White Toadflax. Image courtesy of http://www.stepables.com

This exquisite little flower peeps shyly from grassy places and stony ground throughout Puglia in the early part of the year. It rarely makes a ‘carpet’ of flowers, but the small pure white flowers with a vivid orange centre, catches your attention and demands further inspection and admiration.


Mesembryanthemum Family
Mesembryanthemum. Image courtesy of http://www.flikrhivemind.net

Also known as Livingstone Daisy – which gives a clue to its South African origin – now cultivated as a garden plant around the world. In the wild in Puglia it is found in dry, sandy areas usually on the margins of beaches and sand-dunes. The plant is succulent with fleshy leaves and large showy daisy-like flower with numerous feathery petals and stamens and depending on variety can create a large mat of bright spots of colour against subtle grey-green foliage. Different members of the family come in a variety of colours from snow white and silver-grey through yellow and every shade of pink and orange to deep reds. They can be seen from January through to late autumn whenever the sun is shining. Unfortunately, the flowers are sun-loving, indeed the name means ‘midday flowering’ and will close tight at the slightest hint of cloudy weather and, lovely though they are, this renders them useless for those who like a few flowers in a vase to brighten up a room.


Calendula. Image courtesy of http://www.queenbluesky.blogspot.com

Part of the field marigold family, variations of this simple flower grow in the fields and meadows of Puglia, ranging in colour from bright yellow to deep orange, sometimes with a yellow centre and sometimes brown. The flower grows on a single stem and is generally 1-2cms across and the long thin leaf is slightly wavy on the edge and has a slightly toothed feel to it. Traditionally, the petals of calendula officinalis have been dried and used in tisanes and cosmetics.


White Rocket Flowers
White Rocket Flowers. Image by Valerie Rice

An insignificant and rather raggy flower when seen in a meadow towering over other more decorous and showy blooms, but closer inspection shows a delicate, four-petalled white flower with slight lilac veins and with aging the lilac colour invades the whole petal. Stems can be as long as 50 cms and each one produces a number of flowers in a loose group at the very top.


Field Marigold
Field Marigold. Image by Valerie Rice

These cheerful yellow flowers like large daisies grow in profusion all over Puglia in late winter and early spring and brighten up the olive groves before they are ploughed over ready for the olive harvest in the autumn. There are many variations of which calendula is one. The different varieties are distinguished by colour, size and the shape of the seed (or fruit if you prefer); these can take the form of a little wing which is dispersed on the wind, a little curled seed with spines on the outside or a spiny disc, rather like a desiccated caterpillar. The latter two attach themselves to passing animals and are dispersed in this way. If you have a long-or-curly-haired dog you will be very familiar with the problems they cause, and they can also be very painful if you are unfortunate enough to get one between your foot and the sole of your sandal!

Source reference: ‘Field Guide to Wild Flowers of Southern Europe’ by Paul Davies and Bob Gibbons

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