Flowers that change the landscape

It is not in the rampant vegetation of tropical jungles that the most colourful displays of flowers are to be seen. A hot, moist climate encourages the development of foliage, but the flowers seldom dominate the picture, although individually they may be both beautiful and bright. The flowers that really change a landscape occur either in northern climates or in rather arid, perhaps even semi-desert areas. Here for a short time after the spring rains they appear in profusion, blossoming and seeding, and then vanishing again until the following year.

Sometimes this profuse flowering may not even be a regular annual occurrence. In countries subject to severe droughts for example, a long time may pass before another good season. Many seeds are capable of lying dormant for years in the soil and then they all germinate together when conditions are right. Bulbous plants can also bide their time like this, and there are others which mature very slowly. In this way years may pass between one spectacular flowering and the next.

Changes in the environment can often bring about an unexpected flowering from dormant seeds. These changes can be caused by extensive fires or a disturbance of the soil surface, usually brought about by man’s interference. The seeds may have been lying buried in the soil too deep for germination, or may have been wind-borne to the site and found the new conditions congenial to growth. The tremendous blaze of scarlet poppies in Flanders during the First World War was caused by the shelling and trench digging which exposed previously buried layers of soil. The beautiful rich pink willowherb or fireweed spreads rapidly on bomb sites, or after forest fires, because of its ability to colonize open spaces by wind-blown seeds which germinate and grow particularly well in ashes.

There have also been many instances of introduced plants literally taking over a new environment and in a very short time changing the appearance of a landscape where they were previously unknown. Australian acacias in southern Europe and South Africa, the Asiatic Rhododendron ponticum in the British Isles, the viper’s bugloss introduced to Australia, have all become established far from their native habitat. In many instances the introduction of foreign plants, either deliberately or unwittingly, has been unfortunate. This is because they have grown so much more rampantly in their new surroundings than in their native countries that they have become unmanageable weeds. The poisonous ragwort, which was introduced to Australia and New Zealand, quickly ruined grazing grounds. The South American lantana camara, a shrubby plant with attractive flowers, became a thorough nuisance in Hawaii until its progress was restrained by the introduction of certain insects which were able to keep it in check.

As far as wild flowers are concerned, man’s intervention has usually done more harm than good. The more progressive farming methods are, the more uniform and uninteresting the landscape becomes. Cereals and root crops, sugar cane and banana plantations, tea and coffee gardens, rice paddies, tobacco fields and most of the other commercial crops are far from colourful. Here and there the blazing yellow of mustard and rape, the fields of commercially grown flowers or the blossoming of orchards and almond trees in spring will give a bonus of colour even to an intensely cultivated landscape. A fine show of wild flowers, however, is something to be sought on poor land unfit for cultivation, for instance on abandoned waste ground or in remote areas where climate and soil make agricultural effort uneconomic. The heather moors of the north, the arid creosote bush country of Mexico, the flowering high alpine slopes where snow falls early and lies late, and the hot dry veldt of South Africa and plains of Australia: these are all places where plants which are truly adapted to their environment will thrive and blossom in full splendour in their season.

Many of the wild flowers which can make a tremendous impact in the mass are quite small and insignificant in themselves, and in a garden setting they might well be scorned as weeds. Quite a few are in fact weeds, and because they spread rapidly by seeds and runners they are not generally welcomed in gardens. The common buttercup and the little lawn daisy, the dandelion and the speedwell, are all under constant attack when they intrude where they are not wanted. Yet when they are seen in large numbers in a country field or on waste land they undoubtedly add beauty to the landscape.

Because of the way in which they catch and reflect light, white flowers show up particularly well against a green background, on bare ground, and among fallen leaves. The wood anemones of the northern forests, the white scented poet’s narcissus of the Grecian plains, the masses of Queen Anne’s Lace which floats like froth on the green sea of the country fields, are three quite different white wild flowers. Each one of them in its season transforms the place where it grows.

Bluebells, purple heather, golden gorse, sunny Californian poppies, and many more of the world’s wild flowers can change and dominate a landscape, giving it a colour and character which is lost again when their flowering comes to an end. It is this pageant of the seasons, in its brief and impressive glory, that makes the world an exciting place to explore.

Bluebell

Endymion non-scriptus

Family: Liliaceae

This flower grows in many parts of Western Europe, especially in France, but it is in England that it reaches its greatest glory and it is often called the English bluebell. Bluebell woods in May are one of the sights of the countryside and the soft, rich colouring of the massed flowers beneath the tender green of newly unfolded leaves has a wonderfully soothing effect on frayed nerves. The flowers spring each year from perennial bulbs and they also seed themselves abundantly and are easily naturalized, but they quickly wilt and lose their beauty if picked.

Lupin

Lupinus ornatus

Family Leguminosae

Very few of the world’s deserts are completely barren, and although they may be quite unsuitable for cultivation, they often sustain a number of plants which have become adapted to the conditions. The Arizona desert, for example, is famous for its unique character and its innumerable spiny cacti, including the deceptively furry looking chollas. In a rainy season, such as the spring of 1973, many other plants come into flower and lupins can soften the harsh desert landscape with a haze of blue.

Gorse

Ulex ewopaeus

Family Leguminosae

This prickly shrub grows throughout western Europe and Britain, often along cliff tops and in poor sandy soils. It is seldom out of flower and when in full bloom it makes a tremendous impact on the landscape. Linnaeus, the father of botany, knelt in tears when he first saw its golden splendour and it looks even more beautiful by the blue sea or among purple heather. The flowers have a strong almond scent and later the seeds explode from the ripe pods with an audible crackle. The impenetrable thickets provide shelter for many nesting birds. Which also feed on the seeds.

Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale

Family Compositae

This is one of the commonest plants of the northern temperate zone both in the old and the new world. If it were rare it would be eagerly sought and treasured for the bright flower that rises on a hollow stalk from branching perennial roots. The delicate globes of downy seeds that succeed the flowers, quickly sending their parachutes flying away on the wind, are fascinating and just as lovely in their own way. The dandelions of Siberia are said to be especially large and fine and as in other countries, the leaves are eaten as salad and the roots are roasted and used for making substitute coffee.

Thrift

Armeria maritima

Family Plumbaginaceae

Many plants only grow wild in very specialized localities, and the common thrift or sea pink, although it will transplant to gardens, is in nature always found by the sea and often so close to the water that it becomes covered in spray. The thrifts which are sometimes seen in mountains or even on inland heaths are sub-species with differing characteristics. The sea thrift is a European plant, found both on rocky and sandy shores as well as in salt marshes and when the vividly pink flowers are in their prime during early summer they completely change the appearance of the scene.

Wild Daffodil

Narcissus pseudo-narcissus

Family Amaryllidaceae

The wild daffodil or lent lily is found in many parts of Europe, including England, where it appears to be a native plant and still occurs in large numbers in certain localities. It is one of the earliest of the spring flowers, giving the landscape life and colour before the grass has begun to grow or the trees have come into leaf. The Pyrenean mountain valleys are also famous for their wonderful displays of daffodils and it is from here that the parents of the many fine garden varieties have come.

Sheep’s sorrel

Rumex acetocella

Family Polygonaceae

This plant, so insignificant that a single specimen would hardly be noticed by anyone but a botanist, can yet completely dominate the landscape when it. Sheep’s sorrel seldom grows more than six inches high and the individual flowers are minute, but on poor acid soils it often spreads very fast and when previously cultivated land is lying fallow, as was the case in this locality, the whole area becomes covered in a mantle of red.

Butterfly flower

Schizanthus pinnatus

Family Solanaceae

The South American butterfly flowers, which are also often called poor man’s orchid because of the intricate and beautiful patterning of the petals, are quite well known in their hybrid form as greenhouse annuals. They grow wild in Chile, covering the ground in a dense, rosy lilac carpet. In the wild they are more compact than under cultivation and the rather fragile stems support each other and keep the flowers upright. In early summer, large patches of their rich colouring give a special beauty to many Chilean valleys.

Viper’s bugloss

Echium plantagineum

Family Boraginaceae

This is a Mediterranean plant, but it was introduced as a garden flower on a farm belonging to a family named Paterson, in New South Wales, Australia. It was first noticed on the nearby stock route in 1896 and from there it spread with amazing rapidity, and in eight years travelled more than 500 miles from its original point of introduction. It changed the landscape profoundly, and many an Australian valley now looks like a vivid blue lake during the flowering season. Unfortunately it is also a serious weed in the pastures and is known as Paterson’s curse, blue weed, blue devil, and rather surprisingly also as salvation Jane.

Californian poppy

Eschscholzia californica

Family Papaveraceae

Like so many other wild flowers this brilliant annual is nothing like as common now as it was when it was first seen carpeting the hills of California by the Spaniards. Here and there however, especially in the regions near San Francisco, it can still provide a wonderful display when the four-petalled flowers throw off their pointed green caps and open to the sun. There are several closely related species, some of them perennial and all native to the Pacific coast of North America. The common annual with grey-green finely divided leaves which grows well as a garden plant is variable, and many different forms have been raised, including some with double flowers.

Platdoring flowers

Grielum sp

Family Rosaceae

The arid veldt of the north western Cape Province in South Africa often appears to be virtually desert land, with only a few evergreen shrubs to give a semblance of life, but in certain seasons after good spring rains, the whole area is transformed and becomes so beautiful that tourists flock there to admire the floral display. Among the many different flowers which suddenly appear are the Grielum species, members of the rose family, with finely dissected leaves. In many places they form a carpet which stretches for miles over the red earth.

16. October 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Flower Garden | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Flowers that change the landscape

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