Written by Lucy Brzoska
“Off with their heads!” Parcs y jardins on Montjuic share the Red Queen’s mantra, waging war on the wild flowers that dare to approach the castle. It’s a losing battle in spring though, their scythes and sprays can’t keep up.
From a distance, the pasitos (Anacyclus valentinus) appear like dense yellow spots. Close up, the geometric intricacy of unopened florets makes your eyes whirr.
At the edge of the pine wood, a cluster of Reseda lutea – Wild Mignonette – look printed on the grass: an abstract pattern of toppling cones.
Further along the road, there was a surprise half-hidden in the grass. The Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) is always a marvel, but its appearance at the edge of this scrap of woodland, on an over-used, over-developed patchwork hill, with a 100 different functions (a dogs home is to be squeezed in next), seemed like a miracle. Its utter strangeness was brought into sharp relief.
As you approach, the impression of a bumble bee disappears altogether, taken over by a laughing homunculus. It was like coming face to face with one of the bizarre characters from Doctor Slump. You can see the waxy pollen clusters, the pollinia, dangling form the duck head helmet.
The green-veined sepals on this plant were a very pale pink. The side lobes of the labellum are like welcoming furry arms.
In the end someone got there before Parcs i Jardins. Within a week, both orchid plants had been dug out.
The road up to Santa Fe is one of countless twists. You climb, swinging to the right and the left, until finally you take another turn and find you’ve left the Mediterranean behind. It was intoxicating to be out of the coastal heat and in an under-canopy world of streams, fungus, and beetles that glow like sapphires.
We’d planned a short walk to a rocky outcrop known as the “Empedrat de Morou”, a good place for lunch. But an hour later, we were still within a stone’s throw of the visitors’ centre. It’s what happens when coastal urbanites are let lose in a completely diferent habitat.
Chafer beetles (Hoplia caerulea) were scattered in profusion near the stream, shining in the deep deciduous shade. We watched them stretch their limbs and use their hooked extremities to negotiate the leaves. Then there was the enticing pool by the tree roots, where tadpoles lurked, legs sticking out at right angles (identification pending). But by the time the Camberwell Beauty flew past, pursuit would’ve been stretching patience. On we went, towards lunch on the Empedrat de Morou.
The route took us through coppiced chestnuts and into the solemn beech wood, among large granite boulders. But clearings were frequent and all had butterfly activity, to the consternation of those with growing hunger pangs. A Comma (Polygonia c-album) was chased away to thwart more photography sessions. Then a stunning Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) settled on the track, marked like a cheetah above, and with large silvery spots below.
Despite gnawing hunger, it was worth holding out to the Empedrat de Morou. The rocks are smooth, the view inspiring, and there were even chives growing in the cracks, for forager Nick to spice up his sandwiches. Other fissures were filled with white flowering stonecrop, possibly Sedum hirsutum. While eating you could look over the Santa Fe valley at the Turo del’Home, partially hidden in the clouds.
The mist suddenly went roaming and came swirling around us, so we ducked down into the woods again. Although the trail was simple, we managed to lose it, and for a while were plunging ankle-deep in beech leaves and marshy soil. All kinds of fungus had emerged after last week’s rain, with thick white stems and caps like freshly baked bread.
We hit solid ground again near the small reservoir, which used to provide electricity for the Santa Fe hotel. There were Heath spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata) and wild strawberries by the path. We went past a stream where water slid over the rocks in a succession of pools and waterfalls – an otter’s playgound. Monica did some sliding too, but luckily had dry clothes to get changed into.
On the way down, back to the coast, we pulled over for a while and walked about in the warm light mist. Vapours were pouring up the slope, like smoke out of a chimney. The roadsides were filled with colour: Nettle-leaved bellflowers (Campanula trachelium), Yarrow (Achillea millefoium), and vivid Pinks (Dianthus seguieri) and Violets (Viola bubanii). The last moments of calm were savoured before going home.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
It’s been a long time without rain, and the park squad on Montjuic are zealous cutters of encroaching vegetation. Nevertheless, some flowers have survived, their strong colours drawing attention from a distance. Deep pink shows up at the edge of the pine wood: Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea), a member of the Gentian family. The small, five-petalled flowers, with flamboyant yellow anthers, overlap and cluster together.
The plant is named in honour of Chiron, an unusually cultured Centaur, who stood out from the rest of his rowdy, hard-drinking horse-hoofed kind. Chiron was renowned for his knowledge of medicine, and discovered the wound-healing properties traditionally attributed to Centaury.
Nearby are some round flower heads: Echinops ritro, the Small Globe Thistle. Close up, each ball is composed of tiny rotating lavender-blue petals. The genus name comes from the Greek ekhinos, which means hedgehog or sea urchin.
The Spanish name, Cardo yesquero, refers to the thistle’s use as yesca, dry material that’s easily set alight with a spark.
These fiery flowers were growing at the base of Montjuic, not far from the ring road, in a scrap of dry earth by the pavement. It’s Coreopsis lanceolata, one of many alien species that have escaped from Montjuic’s parks. The Latin name refers to the shape of the seed, based on the Greek koris (bug) and opsis (appearance), and in its native USA the flower goes by the name of Tickseed.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
This winter Collserola’s open spaces were white with Sweet Alyssum. In February Dog Violets huddled together in the woods. By the beginning of March the horse paddocks were thickly edged with Wild Cary (Salvia verbeneca) and Field Marigolds (Calendula arvensis): a rich brocade of violet and yellow.
It was a focus for insect activity: lively Dappled White butterflies (Euchloe crameri) and large leaf-like Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni), Humming Bird Hawkmoths cruising from flower to flower in a haze of orange wings, bumping into the bees.
In the southern part of Collserola, the maquia is in full bloom and buzz: Tree heath, hung with diminutive white bells and Rosemary, whose dense blue flowers are popular with Cleopatra butterflies and fat Carpenter bees. The occasional bush of Mediterranean gorse has waited till the end of winter to explode in scorching yellow.
It’s time for the rock roses to flower, starting with Cistus albidus, whose fragile, fleeting pink petals soon drift to the ground. In the pine woods, Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) grows at the side of the tracks. “Bugloss” is derived from the Greek word for ox tongue, referring to the rough texture of the bristly stem and leaves. The plant used to be recommended as a cure for snake bites, perhaps because its protruding stamen look like snake tongues.
Grass is flecked with Crimson Pea (Lathyrus clymenum), the flowers floating on barely visible stems. Like the other members of the pea family it has five petals: the prominent purple “banner”, two lilac “wings” folded over the two-petalled “keel”, where the stamens and pistil are kept.
While zigzagging up a sunny south-facing slope, following the disused terraces, I noticed a soft furry plant growing in the shade of some broom. It’s a species of Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum cheirifolium) with grey leaves and small wine-red flowers,
Exploring new paths one day, I took a wrong turning and found myself scrabbling through steep woods, the way increasingly blocked by fallen trees. Emerging hot and dishevelled, miles from where I wanted to be, I spotted something on the roadside.
The Giant orchid (Barlia robertiana) is quite a common species but a rarity in Collserola, where orchids are becoming extinct.
Collserola: guided walks