Sunday, March 20, 2011

Yellow splendour in springtime

Mellifluous, mellow yellow is one of the most predominant colours in the countryside at this time of the year. The immense variety of wild flowers providing it is bewildering.

The big yellow turn-on starts in February with various types of Mimosa trees blossoming along roadsides. In February too, swathes of Bermuda Buttercups emblazon fields, meadows and wastelands. Neither Mimosas nor Bermuda Buttercups are native to this part of the world but they have made themselves very prominently at home here.

By March, broom is in full in bloom and it greatly enlivens scrub land that might otherwise be rather dull. There are many species of broom, especially in the Mediterranean climatic zone. One of the commonest in the Algarve is the Great-flowered Broom (Cytisus grandiflorus), which is similar to the Common Broom (Cytisus scoparius) of Britain and other northwest European countries. Great-flowered Broom flourishes as big, bushy shrubs, often in the mild shade of cork oak trees, as shown on the right. The almost leafless Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum) grows even bigger, up to four metres tall. Closely related Genista Greenweeds or Gorses are shorter and spinier but often grow in close harmony with brooms.

Cork Oak and pine woodland are the normal habitat of Sage-leafed Cistus, a low, profusely growing shrub. The flowers, which usually grow singly on relatively long stalks, are small and white with a bright yellow centre. The much larger white-petalled Gum Cistus has a characteristic purple patch at the base of each petal. It clothes vast tracts of hillside, whereas the closely related Algarvian Rock Rose, easily identified by its yellow petals, is much less common.

The woody cones on pine trees are the female variety that produce seeds. The similar shaped but much softer and yelower male cones are full of pollen. Strong breezes distribute the pollen widely. Gusting winds can create minor dust storms and cause clouds of pollen to settle in swimming pools and other places it is definitely not wanted.
Mostly though, the lemon and saffron-splattered landscape is rejoicing with Crown Daisies, Field Marigolds, Yellow Lupins (right) and any number of other spring flowers.

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