Admiring the building rain clouds (at last we may have rain!) I pull over to get a shot of an old ‘Jerusalem tree’ against the dark sky. I haven’t time to walk today but on the other side is a patch of waste ground covered in wildflowers. Are they all Oxalis? Let’s have a look.
Yesterday I walked from Salares back to Finca El Cerrillo with some lovely people who are staying there. Someone asked me, as we came to the end, what a sea of lilac thistles were called and I was ready with the answer – Carduncellus Caeruleus. Then I looked closer and they weren’t.
Thistles are common here. They fit in. In lands with long droughts the juicy stems and leaves of plants are asking to be eaten: prickles are the obvious defence. We have brambles of course, gorse, prickly juniper, prickly pear and the invading agave cacti are happy and healthy. The spikes on every side make summer walking (when wearing jeans is unbearably hot) interesting: I generally choose shorts anyway but I know I will come back bearing scars!
And thistles, as you would expect are so common you take them for granted. Big base rosette of white and green thistle leaves? Milk Thistle. Unbelievably vicious, vigorous tall spike? Spanish Oyster Plant. Lilac thistle flower? Carduncellus Caeruleus (CC for short). I had stopped actually looking. And that’s a terrible thing to do!
The plant I saw yesterday had the same lilac-coloured petals in a typical thistle head, a central disk of small yellow petals, and a bulbous, thistle-like bract supporting the flower. The disk told me it wasn’t CC) but more importantly it lacked a fundamental of thistles. Where were the spines? The only leaves I could locate were small lance-shaped stem leaves – not the familiar lobed, thorn-edged variety. I realised, with some embarrassment that I had been walking half the spring past a swathe of flowers I could not name. This one had to be hunted down!
Two books and one website later I was getting a bit prickly myself. I could not find something that was so like a thistle that wasn’t a thistle. At a certain point I decided Centurea Pullata looked likely and foolishly tweated this pre-checking. Unfortunately Centurea Pullata has lots of leaves crowding up the plant stems.
It was La Flor de Málaga (Antonio Miguel Pérez Ortigosa) – the only flower book on my book shelf specific to the province – that finally gave me the clue I needed. and invaluable for clues on a hard to track plant. The detailed photos of Cyanopsis muricata looked identical to my mystery thistle. Following links and checking websites suggest that it is in the sunflower family, is of North African origin and is also known as Centaurea muricata, Volutarella muricata and (my favourite) Morocco knapweed. But I’m happy this is it. And I have learnt two useful things:
Don’t forget to look again at what you think you already know: you might be surprised.
Great walk today: high road from Canillas to Cómpeta, low road back. Perfect day, pleasant and bright with just enough cloud to keep off the dazzle and sunburn.
I went out with a friend, Jill, who knows her flowers and is almost as mad as me for walking and wildlife. Coming up through Canillas we headed towards the big mast above the town and cut onto a path that leads to a track heading right of the firebreak and east. This brought us above 600m into the rock and sand tracks and hills; dry land with lack of water and hot summers the key elements the plants are adapting to. Now is the time for most to flower, before the summer heat.
The height gives you great views over the valley, from Canillas to the coast. I am forever taking views of long views and frustrated by the camera’s tendency to flatten out a landscape I see of multiple ridges and great depth. You need to be an artist to capture it.
As we walked Jill told me the names of dozens of flowers (all of which I promptly forgot). She is better on the Latin and on some of the Spanish names; I am better on English common names but these are so variable that is almost a liability. But we agreed that the variety there to be seen is mind-boggling.
We came into the fire-zone. The hills above Cómpeta are still recovering from the fire that raged up a valley between Canillas and Cómpeta and swept across the tops in June 2014. It was terrible to see and I am still shocked both by the damage and how slowly the flora, in particular, has recovered. It still looks terribly barren.
But, as Jill pointed out, the track edge was absurdly rich with wildflowers, perhaps as a result of the extra nutrients from the ash, while parts of the stony dry gullies looked like a gardener’s rockery dreams come true.
In among all this foliage I did see some active wildlife: goldfinches, serins, butterflies. I did not manage to get many shots though – even the bugs I couldn’t get good focus on today…
Just as we got to Cómpeta we saw our first company of the day; Pepe riding Cordero (which means lamb!) to give this beautiful horse some exercise on the high road and, he planned, round the back towards Gávilan.
The path comes down beside the football ground which is at the top of the town and the connecting path, though only a few years long is poor – steep, narrow and badly eroded. Given that the town is encouraging walkers and walking and this is the main connection between town and hills this is something they should really take a look at.
We made it down, however, stopped for a coffee in El Recreo (one of many bars) and then set out to walk back. The low road!
Past San Anton and down the stony gully with high banks, overflowing with … more flowers!
The path opens up to run alongside beautiful terraces with glorious verges, passing behind one or two houses before heading down to the road. One of the houses had a rather overgrown flowering tree and neither of us knew it but it buzzed with wildlife, bees and butterflies intoxicated by the smell.
At the road we emerged just beside a bridge over a dry valley and Jill said, “I think of this as Nightingale Valley. Listen!” And sure enough, a nightingale was singing from deep in the cover given by the overgrown poplar copse beyond the bridge. “That’s where we go next,” I said.
The path down is steep but quite visible in winter – now it is about as over grown as it gets with tides of periwinkles, and prickly with brambles, but once you have got to the valley bottom you are through. This is a wonderful spot for sitting and birding – as well as the nightingale there were blackbirds and dozens of tiny movements within the overgrowth.
From here we walked along terrace ages through farmland, with avocados dominating and wonderful views of the lower valley. We saw a couple of lads clearing the ground with hoes – this is crazily hard work, which might be why they invited us to join them! – and past the foundations of a big new water tank, probably to supply the latest plantings (avocados are very thirsty trees). And still more flowers – the variety is absurd.
The path, after crossing one track then another – you actually have a choice of about five different routes – finally brought us back into Canillas de Albaida. The whole thing took us about 5 hours including a half hour coffee break. To be honest though it is only about a 3 hours walk … if you leave your camera at home and don’t waste all that time looking at flowers!!! Thanks, Jill, for joining me on this one.
Perhaps its the lingering effect of the Artwalk but everywhere I go I see colours. I drive up the valley; I walk over from Cómpeta to Canillas on the goat path or from Canillas to Cómpeta on the low road; I go along the coast road or visit a friend at a villa up a country track and on all sides is a miracle of colour.
We think the common poppy is the only one (and expect fields of colour) but I see different kinds scattered about the paths: the Rough poppy, the Long-headed poppy, the Opium poppy.
Very small flowers are easy to miss but sometimes very beautiful, like this toadflax. And all the Scarlet Pimpernel flowers blue here!
I am amazed that wild pea is said to now be found only in the Mediterranean; I see pea flowers everywhere.
That said, peas are easily muddled with the vetch family.
There are abundant aromatic herbs but one wayside plant has a strange stink; Pitch trefoils leaves smell strongly of pitch or tar – like a hot road. The flower is pretty but the smells strange
This post just gives a hint of the blur of colours – purple, yellow, blue, pink, red – that is all around us, underfoot, and beside us. Even the thistles are beautiful!
The first Spring month; the migration under way with tens of thousands of birds flying across from Africa; enough rain to make life interesting: great month for wilders! What have I seen in March?
Swallows and martins are back (even in the rain). The collared doves never left – they continue their gentle arguments (“But Juuuu-dy! But Juuuuu-dy!”) all year. Several years I have seen flocks of choughs squabbling over the vineyards on the way to Corumbela. And – perhaps it is that I do some longer walks in March – I have seen the years first Eagles by the end of the month. Ditto Ibex, our wonderful mountain goat.
But long walk or short all the flowers are out – everything – cistus and asphodel, lavender and pitch trefoil. I’ve just put a few examples in the gallery. Do you know what subspecies the “toadflax” is? I only see it over 8 or 900m or so!
And of course where there are flowers there are insects. Bees, butterflies and beetles all about. Also I sometimes see some of the years first lizards to poke their noses into the sun.
So, that’s what I’ve been looking at. What have you seen?
Please let me know in comments – or send any Malaga wildlife photos (low res jpeg only please) to firstname.lastname@example.org
It was such a dry winter that I saw no orchids in the Cájula in February: very rare and a bit disappointing. Not to worry though: we got rain at last and -KAPOW!- suddenly flowers everywhere. Even in the village, out of cracks in the concret, splits in the walls, the seedblown self-planters are getting busy.
On the “cuesta” – a concrete slope into farmed land in Sayalonga – it’s all out. The thistles are thinking about making up for their thorns, the Spanish vetchling is sprawling down the banks to join the Bermuda Buttercups celebrating the sun at the bottom.
And here are the orchids. At last. I look forward to seeing them showing their crazy complexity every year. What took you so long?
The world of orchids is populated not just by the flowers but by specialists and botanists and collectors and I don’t pretend to know the details of these flowers as well as many orchid lovers: given that many are variable and that there is disagreement about which are species and which are mere sub-species, my i.d.s are based on the best matches I can find between my observation, my books and a couple of good orchid sites, such as John & Gerry’s Orchids of Britain and Europe or the Orchids of Europe and the Mediterranean.
But if you think I might have mis-labelled these orchids do let me know and tell me why and, most important, what you think they might be.
I mentioned the change in light: from the flat lands of Cheshire to Wiltshire woods England seems shockingly dark after southern Spain. And, in spite of some wooded hillsides, flat. Wet? The start of the “rainy season” had been pretty heavy – the Axarquia gets good rainfall but it runs off or soaks in more: I returned to rediscover mud.
But flowers? In December? Not just winter-flowering cherry but periwinkle, primroses and … wild strawberries? That was really strange. Hello warming world. First EP then Wilshire’s beautiful woods …