Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More fun with Taxonomy: Tamarix Gallica

One of the things that I found somewhat unsettling when I first came to Italy was all the weird plants and trees that I didn't recognise. When I was a small child, my mother started teaching me the Latin and common names of most of the plants and trees in the area where we lived. She said I was the only ten year-old in town who could identify by sight all of the major conifers of British Columbia, Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars and whathaveyou. Of course, the climate there is very similar to England's and there were a great many imports from the Mother Country in Victoria, a big gardening town, so most of the plants and trees I knew were also common in England.

But upon moving into this totally alien climate, I started realising that I had no idea of the identity of many of the plants around me. It was the first time I had really noticed that I had been paying attention to it all my life, and it was odd to suddenly realise that this was a big part of the reason I felt out of place. It was simply something I had taken for granted all my life (and I still find it odd when I meet people who can't tell a sycamore from a broad leaf maple).

So one of the first things I started doing here was buying wildflower and tree identification books. The Italian isn't a problem because much of the botanical language is based on Latin in English and in Italian so it was very easy to suss it out. But there are still a number of local varieties that I have never seen before and can't find in a book.

For example, I've been seeing a lot of these very odd-looking shrubby trees around Santa Marinella. In the summer the small ones look like ferns with very fine frond-like leaves and stems. The big ones grow as large as an ornamental cherry and have trunks that are woody and have a bark similar to hawthorne. But the leaves, if that is what they are, most closely resemble cedar, and so I took them for some odd alien type of conifer. They look like a tree that sprouts very fine ferns instead of leaves. But yesterday I noticed that the trees that had been green and frond-y in the summer were all bare now, so despite their appearance, they are clearly deciduous. In the spring, moreover, they produce masses of lovely mist-like purple/pink flowers.

Certainly one of the oddest plants I've seen so far.

I finally managed to find a reference in a book that I didn't buy (60 Euros!) and jotted it down in my notebook.

Tamarix Gallica or French Tamarisk. My observation that they look like cedar shrubs seems not to have been far off, since one of the common names for it is "Salt Cedar". But it is not a conifer, nor is it French. They're considered an invasive pest in Texas because of their ability to tap deep into water tables and soak up more than their share of water. Wiki says it is native to Saudi Arabia, the Sinai Penninsula and the hot dry parts of the Mediterranean in general.

One to add to my future Botanical Catalogue of Wildflowers and Trees of Santa Marinella.



Anonymous said...

We have them all over Arizona. Not too popular.

-Mike Demers

Mrs McLean said...

I look forward to your Catalogue. I would definitely buy it, because not knowing what the strange new plants were bugged me too!