Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wild Orchids

My rubber wellies are really becoming my favourite footwear for hiking and walking. They're simply the most practical thing for all kinds of terrain. Which is ever so slightly annoying, since I just spent a hundred Euros on a fancy pair of hiking boots. But the wellies have deep grips on the soles, knee-high sides so you can slosh though anything from seas of nettle to mud and streams. The rubber seems to be completely impervious and shows no sign of wear, even after several years of hard stomping. And they were ₤8 at B&Q. Oh well.

So, facing a big load of housework yesterday, naturally I packed up the collecting gear, filled the flask with green tea and went out for a nice long stomp.

I never know quite which direction I'm going to take until I start taking it. This time, although I had intended to go back down to the Marcite for some more nettles and to see how the ducks were getting on, I couldn't resist the urge to climb up past the farmer's fields and to the ridge far above the valley on the hillside.

The terrain up there is completely different. It's very dry, and only a relatively small number of plants can live and thrive. There was a lot of soil erosion, and apart from a fringe of oaks along the edge of the ridge, and bordering quite a steep drop, there was little up there other than hazel and broom and lots and lots of juniper,

Juniperus oxycedrus, not J. communis that is more commonly used in food and booze-making (gin)

The species here is not the kind you eat, though, and the berries, though very flavourful, are toxic in any sort of quantity. Stick with J. communis. Easy to tell the difference, since the berries of J. communis are blue, not red, when ripe.

Juniperus oxycedrus fun-fact:
Decoction of Juniperus oxycedrus subsp. oxycedrus L. (Cupressaceae) (Joso)berries is used internally as tea and pounded fruits are consumed to lower blood glucose levels in Turkey... Results indicated that Joso berry extract and its active constituents might be beneficial for diabetes and its complications.
Also, from Wiki:

Juniperus oxycedrus have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs at multiple sites. J. oxycedrus is not known to grow in Egypt, and neither is Juniperus excelsa, which was found along with J. oxycedrus in the tomb of Tutankhamun.[14] The berries imported into Egypt may have come from Greece; the Greeks record using juniper berries as a medicine long before mentioning their use in food.
I stopped in a patch of mixed juniper and hazel, spaced so far apart that one might have thought they had been planted as a kind of orchard. The ground was rocky, but even so, there was life clinging to it all over.

Sweet little Globularia vulgaris flowers - that like a sandy, rocky soil and lots of sun, were sprouting up all over, almost carpeting the place in spots, and lots of wild mint and sage. I dug up a few samples of the mint and have them in a jar sprouting roots. On the way home, I also dug up a few sprouts and root samples of some wild periwinkle too, with the thought that if I could propagate them and plant them in plugs over my dry and eroding garden slope, it might help fix some soil.

This stuff is also all over the place along the sides of the fields in the more damp and rich soil. It's taken me ages, but I found it at last. It's Cruciata laevipes, or Gallium cruciata,  called in English, Crosswort for the cruciform shape of its sets of four whorled leaves growing from the stem with perfect fibonacci-esque precision.

This species though now practically unused, was considered a very good wound herb for both inward and outward wounds. A decoction of the leaves in wine was also used for obstructions in the stomach or bowels and to stimulate appetite. It was also recommended as a remedy for rupture, rheumatism and dropsy.

There was lots and lots of bunny-sign up there too, with many little shallow holes and plenty of bunny trails to follow. I keep thinking about the snare line idea.

But most spectacular of all were the orchids. At least one large Orchis purpurea in full bloom, with three others half way near by, tucked into sheltered spots between juniper bushes.

Not my pic. Never have I kicked myself so hard as when I spotted the gorgeous thing ten minutes after the cheap batteries I got for the camera had died. But at least now I know where to find them.

Also lots of these little fellows: Ophrys fusca

I was up there much longer than I had intended. I was able to sit for a lovely spell watching the early evening sun shining down on the town, and was placed exactly right to hear the bells, surprisingly loud and close-sounding, for Vespers, and so pulled out my book and sang along to the spiders and lizards and crows.

After that, I wandered along until I found the end of the ridge where what was left of the trail dropped steeply down, and the choice was either to scramble down the slope or climb further up towards the road. Not wanting to risk falling and getting stuck as the light was fading, I took the road, but soon found it very dull compared to the way I'd come, so after about ten paces or so, I just climbed back into the bush. On the way back I collected a small bag of juniper berries and will see what they're like with rabbit.

Also, a taxonomic update:
Below I said this was Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris.

Nope. Turns out it's Ajuga reptans. Common: Bugle. Also called Carpenter's Herb, Sicklewort, Middle Comfrey.

The Online Herbal says of it:
In herbal treatment, an infusion of this plant is still considered very useful in arresting haemorrhages and is employed in coughs and spitting of blood in incipient consumption and also in some biliary disorders, a wineglassful of the infusion - made from 1 OZ. of the dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water - being given frequently.

In its action, it rather resembles digitalis, lowering the pulse and lessening its frequency, it allays irritation and cough, and equalizes the circulation and has been termed 'one of the mildest and best narcotics in the world.' It has also been considered good for the bad effects of excessive drinking.

There are quite a few of these kinds of plants that produce a flower spike with lots of little blue or purple bract flowerets. One of them that I've been trying to identify since I got to Italy turns out to be Wild Clary, Salvia verbenaca. Another is Selfheal, and yet another is Purple Deadnettle, or Lamium purpureum. All totally different families of plants, and all having completely different properties. It's what makes this hobby so much fun. It's like sleuthing.

It's also an important lesson in how important the details are in taxonomy. And don't make a mistake. Hogweed and deadly Hemlock look very, very much alike.



Chloe said...

Having just burnt and hacked and dug away to get rid of the periwinkle menace in my garden, I can't help wondering if you're wise on that. They were strangling everything in their path. Some of them were growing on top of concrete slabs and I still had to fight like a maniac to get them up.

Thank you for the info on ajuga and purple dead nettles. I have them but didn't know they were useful.

Love the orchids. I would so much like to see them. Your home sounds so beautiful.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

I'm fine with the nuclear-periwinkle option. Threr's barely any soil and nothing but scrubby weeds grows on the slope. All the stuff has to go into pots. the p.winkle can duke it out with the hedge.

Actually, I read that the juniper is probably the best suited to the poor rocky soil and the southern exposure, and it's supposed to be ideal for soil erosion problems.

BillyHW said...

Do you have a hiking pole? I find it helps a lot. And tell us when you see some interesting animals.

Maureen said...

The Orchids are wonderful. I hope you find more of them.

Chloe said...

A bit late on this topic but you might find this interesting. This chap seems to be able to make anything grow with these methods. I will be getting me some woodchip.