We started our programme of 2024 with a visual feast of plants from the Iberian Peninsula with a talk by Razvan Chisu titled “Spanish daffodils and many other gems”. Razvan lived in Andalucia for a while and has visited Spain many times.
Razvan is the Social Media Manager for the Alpine Garden Society. He writes for various gardening magazines, leads tours and lectures to gardening groups in the UK and abroad.
Razvan grew up in Transylvania in a town surrounded by vast woodlands and species-rich wildlife meadows and has a keen interest in studying plants in the wild. He has organised private tours to Transylvania and Spain and led several tours to Greece and Sweden for the AGS.
Razvan’s interests range from alpine plants and bulbs, succulents, fruit and heirloom vegetables, ferns and orchids, to perennials, shrubs and trees. He is very keen on plant propagation, from getting difficult alpines to germinate to twin-scaling snowdrops and taking root cuttings of various perennials.
Razvan started by explaining the plant diversity of the area. The Mediterranean has 25,000 species of plants, the Iberian Peninsula has 5300 species. The Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains in the peninsula, is home to 2100 plant species, 77 of which are endemic and 200 of which can also be found in Morocco.
Razvan then took us on a tour of flowers of the year, starting in January in Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata. This is Europe’s driest area, semi-desert with calderas of long extinct volcanoes. The botanic garden here cultivates local and endemic plants including Antirrhinum charidemi.
Moving into February, growing on the Andalucian coast is Lavatera maritima with dry adaptated hirsute leaves and striking green sepals visible in the flower centre. Shrubs include Teucrium pseudochamaepitys, Lavandula stoechas and L. multifida, the latter blooms up to 1 metre tall and when mature the flowers twist on their stems.
Heading into spring the slopes of the Sierra Nevada are covered with almonds in blossom. Amongst the scrub flowers Narcissus gadorenis, which is only found in the east of the mountains in the Province of Almería. Razvan was first tempted to visit this area when reading “Driving over Lemons” by Chris Stewart, set in La Alpujarra.
Around the stunning city of Ronda, which is located on steep cliffs either side of a gorge created by the Guadalevín River, Razvan discovered Narcissus papyraceus growing on limestone or sandy soil, often in damp spots such as roadside ditches. Just to the west lies Garganta Verde (Green Gorge), home to griffon vultures, wild goats and Iris planifolia, the only species of Juno iris in Europe. Muscari neglectum also grows here, with deep blue-purple flowers and white ‘teeth’ at the base of each bell. Muscari comosum has flowers that are more colourful at the top of the inflorescence. These are infertile; the flowers lower down the stem are brown and fertile. These have a wide range and in Greece Razvan has seen these boiled and pickled.
In Sierra de las Nieves Narcissus bugei grows in moist meadows, and Razvan saw them in standing water after snow melt. At Cape Trafalgar, south of Jerez, orchid Gennaria diphylla (a monospecific genus) with green flowers and heart-shaped leaves and variable habitat including evergreen woods, shrubby thickets and shaded rocky area, grows amongst the coastal sand dunes, along with vivid blue- flowered Anagallis monellii. Moving to Galicia in north-west Spain Narcissus cyclamineus grows on the banks of streams that show signs of recent flooding. At higher elevations in the Picos de Europa Narcissus asturiensis (pygmy daffodil, one of the smallest species) flowers alongside Crocus carpetanus. Here Razvan and fellow botanisers also found unusual shrub Polygala microphylla, with narrow foliage and striking deep blue-purple flowers.
Moving onto late summer and back in the Sierra Nevada it is very dry. Many plants look parched but Razvan discovered Bupleurum gibraltarium, B. spinosum, Stachys italicum which smells of curry and Dianthus broteri which forms mounds up to half a metre across with a multitude feathery pale pink flowers. Acequias are ancient water channels constructed to bring snow melt to fields and orchards and these form green, flowery channels amongst the dry landscape. Here grows Trachelium caeruleum in the Campanula family.
One December Razvan travelled to the area around Malaga and found Arisarum vulgare and A. simorrhinum, the latter which has the spadix hidden within the spathe. Also flowering were Dianthus lusitanicus, white hoop-petticoat Narcissus cantabricus and Aristolochia baetica with hairy maroon-brown flowers.
Thank you Razvan for a beautifully illustrated lecture, we very much enjoyed hearing about your botanising in Spain. We hope you’ll be able to join us again to share more of your travel and plant adventures!
By Jackie Hunt. Thank you to Kaye Lillycrop for sharing your photos of plants discovered during your trip to Andalucia.