Monday, 15 April 2013

Back to Earth

   After a few days in the French city of Avignon it was back to the reality of Byfield, with temperatures of around 27 degrees being replaced by distinctly chillier conditions! As this blog is intended to focus on the Byfield area I will only dwell briefly on our break in Provence. 

Barleya robertiana above Nimes

The flowers of the limestone hills above the Rhone valley were lovely, with the Giant Orchid, Barleya robertiana, being common in grassy placesThis is an early-flowering species and is generally over by the time most holidaymakers arrive in the area. It was sometimes accompanied by the more delicate Sombre Bee Orchid, Ophrys fusca. (Apologies for the poor photograph.)

Ophrys fusca near Avignon

                                            These orchids are almost impossible to grow and are best enjoyed in the wild. Not only is it difficult to recreate the conditions - thin, gritty, summer-baked soil - but the correct  mycorrhizal fungus generally needs to be present to support the root system (although it has to be said that recent research in Italy casts doubt on these previous assumptions).    

Also present, sometimes in large numbers, was the yellow-flowered Iris lutescens. This can flourish in cultivation if its rhizomes get a good summer baking.

                                                    Iris lutescens above Avignon                       

In some places, on the sun-warmed rocks, there were hundreds of specimens of the bug, Lygaeus saxatilis. As "saxatilis" means "of rocks" they were clearly in an ideal habitat. Many pairs were mating.
Lygaeus saxatilis above Villeneuve les Avignon. 

Viburnum tinus, Church Street, Byfield
14 April, 2013

      The familiar garden shrub Laurustinus, Viburnum tinus, is native to Provence and grows prolifically around Avignon, being seen every day on our rambles. It was somehow fitting therefore that, on a stroll around Byfield a day after returning, I should see this shrub flowering in Church Street; I had come full circle.  

(Ever since my youth - and for a century or so before that - Viburnum has been placed in the Honeysuckle Family, Caprifoliaceae. As a consequence of genetic research this genus, together with Elder and a few other shrubs, has been reassigned to the Adoxaceae Family. And I now find that Mistletoe, Viscum album - prolific in central France has been removed from the Loranthaceae Family and placed in the Sandalwood Family, Santalaceae. I'm getting too old to cope with all these changes!)

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