Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nature of Corsica 3: Herbaceous plants

In areas with more constant water supply, such as by the sides of streams or under trees, there are a wide variety of herbaceous plants and shrubs, many of which are known as ornamental garden plants or as culinary or medicinal herbs. One of the most ornamental of those in flower at the time of our visit is the Willow Gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea. This is a much taller growing plant than the alpine gentians more familiar to most gardeners, and reached around 70cm in some of the clumps we found – these were mostly by the edge of streams. In cultivation they need humus-rich, moist soil in shade, similar to their native habitat, which is primarily montane woodland across Europe from the Alps eastwards. Although the usual form has deep blue flowers, pale forms are also found – see the example below:

G.asclepiadea - pale form
All around the Mediterranean various species of mint, their cultivars and hybrids are used in cooking, herbal teas, and medicines, and we found two species living in the same habitat as the Willow Gentian. One was the creeping Corsican Mint Mentha requienii, which is used to flavour the liqueur cr̬me de menthe and in the UK is used as a ground cover, and the other was the much taller Water Mint, M.aquatica. This is sometimes grown in water gardens, but like all mint species it is quite invasive, and it also has a huge natural range across Europe and North Africa into western Asia. It hybridises readily, and many of these are grown in cultivation, most notably perhaps the hybrid with M.spicata (Spearmint), which produces the hybrid M.x piperita Рpeppermint.

D.viscosa with Clouded Yellow butterfly
In dryer areas more drought-tolerant plants are found. Most vividly along the sides of the roads were Ditricchia viscosa, Stink Aster, which gets its name for pretty obvious reasons and also protects itself with sticky leaves, which I presume cuts down on evaporation in hot sunshine.

Also drought resistant are the Short-Leaved Stonecrop, Sedum brevifolium, which we found in the centre of the island. At high elevations plants face higher than average levels of UV, and many protect themselves with pigments in the leaves, which is why this stonecrop is so red.

A great many other plants were in flower as well, despite the time of year, but it would take too long to write about all of them, so enjoy these below:

Wild Chicory

 Next time, I will finish off the shrubs and trees, then move on to the animal life we saw.
(Photos are mine)

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